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It’s Possible Now: Tiny Factories That Run on Printed Circuit Boards!

Just when you thought you’d heard of all the possible ways to use printed circuit boards, new ones emerge. First of all, what exactly are micro robots? They remind us of the organization you see from ants – only faster! Remember the ant farms from yesteryear? They were a remarkable way to watch the amazing coordination those creatures use to get things done. 

Mashable says microbots move like the plastic players on the old electric football games. OK, so microbots are tiny workers, but what can they do; specifically, how can they be used in manufacturing? One type of microbots was created by SRI International, and they do almost appear insect-like, but very much organized and able to perform coordinated tasks that mimic some of the work done by larger manufacturing robots. SRI International has developed these microbots that move using what’s called Diamagnetic Micro Manipulation (DM3). Basically magnets are used to direct the movements of these micro robots in a miniaturized factory environment. The ‘wow moment’ you get when you watch these robots is that they can be assigned to work together in a variety of ways:

https://www.sri.com/newsroom/video/micro-robots-for-smart-manufacturing

The tie-in with printed circuit boards is that these robots use the substrate of PCBs as their base, or factory floor. They can even move along flexible circuits, or vertically, straight up the side of a wall. Each microbot has its own assignment, and working in concert, they can accomplish tasks that seem almost impossible. Their coordinated movements can result in rapid construction; they can be directed to move individually up to 35 cm/s, with groups of micro robots performing thousands of moves per second. As depicted in the video, various robots can be assigned specific tasks, with the result being a veritable mini-factory! Each factory features thousands of little robots performing dozens of programmed tasks. They appear almost alive, their focus quite like that of living creatures.

While the video shows the robots creating a 29 cm cubic truss that can hold a 1 kg weight, there are even grander plans for these futuristic workers. They may be used for artificial tissue creation.

Unlike the trained flea circuses of bygone days, the SRI International microbots, while entertaining to watch, also fulfill practical needs. Might these tiny laborers someday be able to construct objects from afar via remote control, or replace much larger robots, which cannot match these little ones’ dexterity? Only time will tell.

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