For a long time it has been possible to make extremely small robots, but they usually need some kind of direct external control just to operate. However, Cornell scientists may have solved that problem at a basic level. they have created microrobots (no more than 250 micrometers in diameter) with basic electronic “brains” that allow them to walk autonomously. Two-legged and six-legged robots move relatively easily, while a four-legged “dogbot” changes speed when an operator sends laser pulses.

The trick was to build a complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (or CMOS, as computer enthusiasts know it) clock circuit whose signal produces out-of-phase square-wave frequencies that set the gait of the robot’s platinum legs. . The photovoltaic energy controls both the legs and the circuit. The design is far from complex with just 1,000 transistors (for context, a GeForce RTX 4090 has 76.3 billion), and it’s still big enough to effectively serve as the body of the robot. However, even that is an achievement: the exceptionally low power demands saved Cornell from having to use relatively gigantic photovoltaics.

These inventions are a far cry from the most sophisticated large-scale autonomous robots seen today. They can advance, but not much more. However, the researchers see this as just a start. They believe that future microrobots could be crucial for medical care, where they could perform internal surgeries and clean arteries. In other places, they could detect chemicals and remove contaminants. Any such bots are probably years away, but this project suggests that they are technically possible.

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