Engineers at Northwestern University have created what they claim is the world’s smallest remote-controlled walking robot.

Inspired by the peekytoe crab, the half a millimeter-wide robotic crab is smaller than a flea and is capable of bending, twisting, walking, crawling and jumping. This capability, according to the Northwestern team, is due to the elastic resilience of the robot’s body — and not the hydraulics, electricity or hardware commonly used to power such robots.

Source: Northwestern UniversitySource: Northwestern University

Composed of a shape-memory alloy material, the robot can reportedly be induced to move using a scanned laser beam. The team can quickly heat the robot along different sections of its body using the laser while a thin glass coating elastically returns the corresponding parts to their previous deformed shapes when cooled.

Through this changing from shape-to-shape — from deformed to remembered shape to deformed shape — locomotion is created. In addition to remotely controlling the robot via laser, the laser scanning can also dictate what direction the robot moves in.

The Northwestern team believes that the peekytoe crab-inspired robot will eventually pave the way for micro-robots capable of potentially repairing or assembling small structures or machines in industry, or clearing clogged arteries, stopping internal bleeding or eliminating cancerous tumors in healthcare applications.

The research, Submillimeter-scale multimaterial terrestrial robots, appears in the journal Science Robotics.

For more on the crab-inspired robot, watch the accompany video that appears courtesy of Northwestern University.

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