Cornell researchers have created one-micron-shaped memory drivers that allow two-dimensional materials that are atomically thin to fold into three-dimensional configurations.
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All they need is a quick electric shake. Once bent, the material maintains its shape, even after the effort is removed.
As proof of this, the team created what is potentially the world’s smallest self-folding origami bird, at 60 microns (one micron equals a thousandth of a millimeter).
The results are published on the cover of Science Robotics.
“We want to have microscopic robots but have brains on board. That means you need attachments that are driven by CMOS semiconductor transistors, which are basically a computer chip in a robot with a capacity of 100 microns at its side,” said Itai Cohen, the author Principal and professor of physics, in a statement.
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Imagine a million microscopic robots free from a chip that bends, breaks free, and performs its tasks, even as it assembles more complex structures. This is the vision.
“The tricky part is making materials that respond to CMOS,” Cohen said. This is what the Cornell team has achieved with this shape-memory driver, so that it can drive with an electric voltage and make it have a curved shape. “
Machines fold themselves quickly, at 100ms. It can also be flattened and folded thousands of times. And they only need one volt to come back to life.
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The team has already been recognized by the Guinness Book of Records for creating the smallest walking robot. Now, they hope to set another record with a new foldable origami bird that is just 60 microns wide.
The team is currently working on integrating their shape-memory drivers with circuits to create walking robots with foldable legs, as well as leaf-shaped robots that move forward.
These innovations may someday lead to nano bedroom robots that can clean up bacterial infections from human tissue, small factories that can transform manufacturing, and robotic surgical instruments that are ten times smaller than current devices, according to Cohen.
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