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Microbots

A close look at one of the nanomotors (inset), inside a living human cell

Imagine if it were possible to send tiny machines into living cells, where they could deliver medication, perform ultra-micro surgery, or even destroy the cell if needed. Well, we've recently come a little closer to being able to do so. Scientists at Pennsylvania State University have successfully inserted "nanomotors" into human cells, then remotely controlled those motors within the cells.  Read More

Harvard Microrobotics Lab's HAMR is an insect-sized robot capable of high speed legged loc...

Though there's much work to be done before miniature robots move exactly like insects, Harvard Microrobotics Lab is making strides with its latest prototypes. It recently demonstrated the Harvard Ambulatory MicroRobot (HAMR), a 4.4 cm quadruped that scurries around at up to 8.4 body lengths per second.  Read More

Harvard researchers are developing a feedback controller that should allow the Robobee to ...

Harvard researchers are getting closer to their goal of developing a controllable micro air vehicle called the Robobee. The tiny robot was already capable of taking off under its own power, but until now it was completely out of control. By adding two control actuators beneath its wings, the robot can be programmed to pitch and roll.  Read More

Air bubbles in a saline solution can be controlled with high precision by a laser beam, wh...

Building robots out of bubbles is an intriguing idea in its own right, but propelling them with lasers is just plain crazy. The bubble microrobots, devised by the researchers from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, have no mechanical parts whatsoever, but can nevertheless be manipulated with very high precision. Combined into complex robotic systems, they could potentially be used to assemble larger objects, such as biological cells.  Read More

Inspired by origami and children's pop-up books, Harvard engineers have pioneered a means ...

Inspired by origami and children's pop-up books, Harvard engineers have pioneered a means of mass-producing bee-sized flying microrobots. The breakthrough mechanizes the already state-of-the art process of making Harvard's Mobee robots by hand, by mass producing flat assemblies by the sheet which can be folded and assembled in a single movement. The technique, which cunningly exploits existing machinery for making printed circuit boards, can theoretically be applied to a multitude of electromechanical machines.  Read More

Magnetically levitated micro robots are simple to scale down and could potentially be comb...

The past five to ten years have seen the birth of microbotics. A whole range of components that are vital for building robots, such as actuators, motors or batteries, became available in micro-scale only fairly recently. Finally enthusiasts got what they needed to put their own systems together, and the whole field benefited from their work. But there are obvious limitations to scaling down robots full of sensors, motors, and other mechanisms. That is, unless you make the machines extremely simple, which is exactly what Ron Pelrine of SRI International has done. His work on levitated microrobots may have powerful implications for robotics, and is likely to bring us a step closer towards fast, precise and affordable robotic systems comprising thousands, if not millions of microrobots.  Read More

The graphene coating, seen above as a dark blue patch connected to gold contacts, generate...

Hydroelectricity is the most widely used form of renewable energy, supplying around 20 percent of the world’s electricity in 2006, which accounted for about 88 percent of electricity from renewable sources. Now researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed a new method to harvest energy from flowing water using a nanoengineered graphene coating. The new technology only produces small amounts of electricity so isn’t aimed at large scale electricity production, but rather at self-powered microsensors to be used in oil exploration.  Read More

The quadcopter bots have 20 minutes of battery power to find high ground.

Autonomous flying quadcopter robots, built from off-the-shelf parts in €300 kits (US$380) could be used to establish radio networks for phones and wireless Internet in disaster zones. Under development by researchers at the Ilmenau University of Technology, the bots are equipped with satellite navigation, GPS, and VIA Pico-ITX hardware.  Read More

The 2007 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize

February 15, 2007 If there’s an absolutely golden imprimatur for the person-most-likely-to-succeed, it’s the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize. Jerome H. Lemelson, one of the world's most prolific inventors, and his wife Dorothy founded the Lemelson-MIT Program funded via his own private philanthropic Lemelson Foundation, the Student Prize recognizes outstanding inventors, encourages sustainable new solutions to real-world problems, and enables and inspires young people to pursue creative lives and careers through invention. Given that MIT attracts the very brightest students to begin with, the winner is usually a stellar high achiever and this year’s winner is already that. 2007 winner Nathan Ball's inventions include the Atlas Rope Ascender (see separate story) and a needle-free injection technology that will enable greater efficiencies in mass inoculations, both capable of saving many lives and both with many commercial applications. Last year’s winner Carl Dietrich is the CEO and CTO of his own flying car company Terrafugia. We’ve also written about Saul Griffith, the 2004 winner. All the winners and their exploits in this article.  Read More

Recoilless technology provides killer app for UAVs

December 12, 2006 The technological progress of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle has been astonishingly rapid. At the beginning of the current Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts, it’s fair to say that UAVs were regarded as a reconnaissance tool for improving situational awareness but from the time the first Hellfire missiles were fired from an RQ-1A Predator UAV during 2002, the enormous advantage of an armed UAV that can help identify and eliminate a target has been recognised. Predators can prowl and strike where conventional military force cannot. In September we wrote about the first purpose-built hunter-killer UAV, and now the rush is on to add armaments to smaller UAVs. UAVs must be relatively large to withstand the recoil of the weapons they shoot, so weapon caliber has been limited. Now a new recoilless technology is set to revolutionize the small UAV’s role in the battlespace - Recoilless Technologies International (RTI) has signed a Joint Commercialization Agreement with UAV manufacturer, Tactical Aerospace Group (TAG). The new technology offers effective elimination and control of recoil and hence enables very small UAVs to pack a massive wallop. That’s just the start though because the technology can be applied to larger caliber weapons systems so everything that flies, floats or moves on land will also be able to pack a similar increase in firepower. Who knows how small a killer UAV can get? We have visions of a swarm of semi-autonomous, networked, killer microbots shooting miniature poison-tipped darts as in Dan Brown's novel, Deception Point.  Read More

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