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Six tiny robots can pull a two-ton car

Outweighed ten thousand times, the 0.5-ounce robots rely on teamwork (and sticky feet).
Steve Dent, @stevetdent
March 14, 2016
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Stanford university's uBots have pulled off a feat that makes ants look like slackers. Working in concert, six of the robots managed to tow a 3,900 pound car, despite weighing just a half-ounce each -- much less than other car-towing robots. The secret, according to the team, is biomimicry. The wee bots are designed to imitate gecko lizards with sticky feet that can support a heavy load but still detach easily. In previous experiments, that allowed them to climb up walls and pull heavy weights. This time, the robots are channeling ants by working as a team to pull a heavy load.

The researchers noticed that ants can boost their power by using three out of six legs at once. "By considering the dynamics of the team, not just the individual, we are able to build a team of our 'microTug' robots that, like ants, are superstrong individually, but then also work together as a team," grad student David Christensen told the NY Times. Working in a similar fashion (albeit with wheels), the uTug robots can muster a force of 200 Newtons, or around 45 pounds. With their sticky tires, that's enough to slowly but surely pull a two-ton vehicle (see the video below).

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