An engineering research team has developed the world’s first flying microrobot capable of manipulating objects for microscale applications. The microrobot discovery provides researchers with more control over the microscale environment, allowing them to move and place tiny objects with far greater precision. The microscale deals with tiny objects, at levels that are too small to be manipulated by humans.
The microrobot defies the force of gravity by flying or levitating, powered by a magnetic field. It moves around and dexterously manipulates objects with magnets attached to microgrippers, remotely controlled by a laser-focusing beam. It can be used for micro-manipulation, a technique that enables precise positioning of micro objects. Applications of micro-manipulation include micro-assembly of mechanical components, handling of biological samples or even microsurgery.
Behrad Khamesee, director of University of Waterloo’s Maglev (Magnetically Levitated) Microrobotics Laboratory, heads the team that built the prototype flying MicroElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS) robot.
“We have developed a magnetically levitated microrobot, which is a new technology for manipulation using flying microrobots,” said Khamesee, a professor of mechanical and mechatronics engineering skilled in developing micro-scale devices using magnetic levitation.
“We are the first in the world to make such a floating robot equipped with microgrippers. It can enter virtually any space and can be operated in a sealed enclosure by a person outside, which makes it useful for handling biohazardous materials or working in vacuum chambers and clean rooms.”
Magnetic levitation is used to position the microrobot in a three-dimensional space, employing an external magnetic drive mechanism. The mechanism controls that magnetic field by using feedback from position sensors in order to position the microrobot.
Since the power is supplied externally, the microrobot does not carry a power source or a controller, which enhances its maneuverability.
Thanks to magnetic levitation, the microrobot positions itself easily on complex surfaces — a key advantage over crawling or walking robots. As well, because it can fly, the microrobot avoids friction and adhesion forces.
It has high maneuverability because it works without such mechanical components as connection arms or wires. Dust-free motion and operability in closed environments are other key features of the microrobot.
Khamesee, along with a graduate student, Caglar Elbuken, and his colleague Mustafa Yavuz, have submitted a paper explaining the discovery to the Focused Section on Mechatronics for MEMS (MicroElectroMechanical Systems) and NEMS (NanoElectroMechanical Systems), published jointly by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) and ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers).