Researchers from the University of Southern California (USC) have developed a tiny robot that is powered by methanol and that moves via artificial muscles.

The 88 milligram RoBeetle autonomously climbs, crawls and transports loads more than two times its weight without benefit of motor or battery. Instead the tiny robot moves thanks to a combination of methane, which stores 10 times more energy than a battery of the same mass, and artificial muscle comprised of nickel-titanium alloy (Nitinol) wires, which contract when heated.

Source: USCSource: USC

Coated with a platinum powder, the wires contract once vapor from the RoBeetle's fuel tank burns the wires while a network of microvalves close to prevent combustion. Once the wires cool and expand, more valves open, and the process is repeated until the fuel is depleted. These expanding and contracting motions enable the artificial muscles to move via a connected transmission mechanism.

At just 0.6 inches in length, the absence of a battery and a motor eliminates the bulkiness of small robots intended for applications that are either inaccessible or too hazardous for humans to undertake. As such, the RoBeetle shows promise for carrying out dangerous tasks such as infrastructure inspection or search and rescue missions, according to researchers. Likewise, the RoBeetle’s developers believe that the robot could be used for artificial pollination and environmental monitoring tasks as well.

The research appears in the journal Science Robotics.

To contact the author of this article, email