Tiny 'walking' motor could help robots build other robots

It could also be the key to robots that work in tight spaces.

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Jon Fingas
July 2, 2019 10:01 PM
In this article: gear, mit, motor, robot, robotics, robots, science, video
Will Langford/MIT
Will Langford/MIT

How do you get better at making more robots? By rethinking how you build the manufacturing robots, apparently. MIT researchers have developed a minuscule "walking" motor that allows for robots which should be at once customizable, fast and inexpensive. It's made of just five modular parts, including rigid and flexible components, electromagnetics, a coil and a magnet. Those move an appendage that lets the robot crawl, grip, push and otherwise perform tasks without a complex set of parts -- it's likened to a "micro-Lego" that can be configured to do what you want with a minimum of fuss.

It's powerful, too. The initial design can lift seven times its own weight, but you can add more components for extra strength or to handle complex movements. And notably, you can scale the size of the parts to tackle very large or very tiny projects. Until now, you typically needed specialized methods to make motors work at either extreme.

While this is is just a "first step," MIT sees vast potential. It could lead to standardized part sets that help assemble task-specific robots without needing to design new manufacturing bots every time. You could also see more extra-small robots capable of working in tight spaces. Either way, this could help robots transition from expensive, niche machines into something relatively commonplace.

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