Ants are incredibly strong for their size on their own, and can carry enormous weights when they work together. This inspired a team of Stanford University researchers to try and get many tiny robots to team up and combine their efforts.
The result is astonishing: a team of six microrobots, each the size of a cockroach and weighing 3.5oz in total, managed to pull a car weighing 3,900lb across a polished concrete floor.
David Christensen, one of the researchers attached to the Biomimetics and Dexterous Manipulation Laboratory at Stanford, said that the demo is the functional equivalent of six humans moving a weight equal to that of the Eiffel Tower.
The implications could be huge: instead of working to develop individually stronger robots, we could instead focus on multiplying their efforts by getting them to work together and speed up processes like construction and cargo transport.
Christensen, along with fellow grad student Srinivasan Suresh, researcher Katie Hahm and mechanical engineering professor Mark Cutkosky, published a paper on this project last month. They will present “Let’s All Pull Together: Principles for sharing large loads in microrobot teams” in May at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Stockholm, Sweden.
➤ Let’s all Pull Together: Team of µTug Microrobots Pulls a Car [Biomimetics and Dexterous Manipulation Lab on YouTube via The New York Times]