NEW YORK: Engineers have created a micro-robot with sticky feet that can climb up, down and all around in narrow, complex spaces.
The tiny-robot, called HAMR-E (Harvard Ambulatory Micro-Robot with Electroadhesion), weighs 1.48 gram and has electro-adhesive foot pads, origami ankle joints, and specially engineered walking gait, which can help climb on vertical and upside-down conductive surfaces like the inside walls of a commercial jet engine that are inaccessible to human workers.
It is the “first and most convincing step” showing the possibility of a centimetre-scale climbing robot and it could be used in the future to “explore any sort of infrastructure, including buildings, pipes, engines, generators,” said Robert Wood at Harvard University.
HAMR-E’s foot pad was equipped with a polyimide-insulated copper electrode to generate electrostatic forces between the pads and the conductive surface.
The foot pads can be easily released and re-engaged by switching the electric field on and off, which operates at a voltage similar to that required to move the robot’s legs, enough to keep the robot from sliding down or falling off, the study showed.
Also, the pads are flexible, allowing the robot to climb on curved or uneven surfaces.
They also created origami-like ankle joints that can rotate in three dimensions to compensate for rotations of its legs as it walks, ensuring its orientation.
HAMR-E also has a special walking pattern with three foot pads always touching the surface during the leg-swinging.
When tested on vertical and inverted surfaces, it was able to achieve more than 100 steps in a row without detaching.
The robot can also walk around a curved, inverted section in a jet engine.
“Now that these robots can explore in three dimensions instead of just moving back and forth on a flat surface, there’s a whole new world that they can move around in and engage with,” said lead author Sebastien de Rivaz, a former research fellow at the Harvard University who now works at Apple.
“They could one day enable non-invasive inspection of hard-to-reach areas of large machines, saving companies time and money and making those machines safer,” Rivaz added.