Harvard Engineers Built a Climbing Micro-Robot That Can Crawl on Ceilings

Friday, 21 December 2018 - 11:52AM
Robotics
Gadgets
Friday, 21 December 2018 - 11:52AM
Harvard Engineers Built a Climbing Micro-Robot That Can Crawl on Ceilings
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Screenshot: Wyss Institute/YouTube
While some researchers are focusing on ways to make robots walk and run, engineers at Harvard are taking a more vertical approach. In collaboration with Rolls-Royce, a team at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have been developing HAMR-E (Harvard Ambulatory Micro-Robot with Electroadhesion), a machine capable of climbing curved and inverted surfaces made of conductive materials.

Weighing in at 1.5 grams, the lightweight bot gets around thanks to its electro-adhesive foot pads that function by switching an electric field on and off, "origami-based" ankle joints that move in three dimensions, and a walking pattern that ensures that at least three feet are always in contact with the surface that it is climbing. "Now that these robots can explore in three dimensions instead of just moving back and forth on a flat surface, there's a whole new world that they can move around in and engage with," said former Research Fellow at the Wyss Institute and first author of the study (recently published in Science Robotics), Sébastien de Rivaz. "They could one day enable non-invasive inspection of hard-to-reach areas of large machines, saving companies time and money and making those machines safer." One such machine that was used during the development and testing of the microrobot is a jet engine, which has curved metal walls and nooks not immediately visible to the human eye.



"This iteration of HAMR-E is the first and most convincing step towards showing that this approach to a centimeter-scale climbing robot is possible, and that such robots could in the future be used to explore any sort of infrastructure, including buildings, pipes, engines, generators, and more," said co-author Robert Wood. One limitation of the tech is that it needs a material like conductive metal to climb on because of how the foot pads work, but the engineers plan to address that issue in future models. "While academic scientists are very good at coming up with fundamental questions to explore in the lab," said Wyss founding director Donald Ingber, "sometimes collaborations with industrial scientists who understand real-world problems are required to develop innovative technologies that can be translated into useful products. We are excited to help catalyze these collaborations here at the Wyss Institute, and to see the breakthrough advances that emerge."
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