Engineers from the Northwestern University have developed a prototype of miniature robotic crabs that can fit inside a pinhead.

Automata are the smallest remote-controlled walking robots ever – and come in the form of a tiny peekytoe crustacean.

Just half a millimeter wide, robotic crabs can bend, twist, crawl, walk, spin and jump, and have potential applications in various industries, including the medical field, researchers have said. .

The robots operate using a special alloy that remembers its shape; when heated by a precision laser at specific points, the alloy flexes and when cooled, it returns to its original shape.

Engineers said this rapid heating and cooling is what moves the robotic crabs, at speeds of up to half their body length per second.

Currently, the research is in an exploratory stage, but the engineers believe their technology could bring the field closer to achieving microscopic robots that can perform practical tasks in tightly confined spaces.

The research has been published in the journal Science Robotics. Last September, the same team introduced a winged microchip it was the smallest flying structure ever made by man.

Commenting on the new technology, John A. Rogers, who led the experimental work, said, “Robotics is an exciting field of research, and the development of microscale robots is a fun subject for academic exploration.

“You could imagine micro-robots as agents for repairing or assembling small structures or machinery in industry or as surgical assistants for clearing clogged arteries, stopping internal bleeding, or removing cancerous tumors – all in minimally invasive procedures.

The tiny robots move without complex hardware, hydraulics or electricity, making them ideal for fitting into tight spaces typically inaccessible by normal means.

In addition to robot crabs, engineers also worked on other small robot designs for similar tasks, including millimeter-sized robots resembling caterpillars, crickets, and beetles.


Rogers added, “With these assembly techniques and material concepts, we can build walking robots with almost any size or 3D shape.

“But the students felt inspired and amused by the sideways crawling movements of the little crabs. It was a creative quirk.

Rogers said the robots were primarily created for academic purposes, but the technology used to make the tiny crabs has potential.

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