Tiny micro electromechanical systems (MEMS) motors stretch a diminutive nine-micron-thick, two-millimeter-long rubber band in order to allow a microbot to catapult itself through the air like a flea.
Credit: Sarah Bergbreiter, UC Berkeley.
The idea is that stretching a silicone rubber band just nine microns thick can enable these microrobotic devices to move by catapulting themselves into the air. Early tests show that the solar-powered bots can store enough energy to make a 7-millimeter robot jump 200 millimeters high and they would cover 400 millimeters on the ground horizontally at the same time. This flealike ballistic jumping would enable these sensors to be mobile, covering relatively large distances and overcoming obstacles that would normally be a major problem for micrometer-sized bots.
But generating this movement still requires more energy than the robot is capable of scavenging from its environment through its solar cells. This is often the case with autonomous robots, which is why storing the energy is necessary.