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The Harvard Ambulatory MicroRobot: penny-sized, amazingly fast robot modeled after bugs

Published: July 27, 2013
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In addition to the tiny and quite creepy RoboBee, the Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory has developed an incredibly small and unbelievably fast class of ground-based robots.

While there are faster legged robots out there, like the cheetah robot, no robot this small can come close in terms of speed.

There are multiple versions that fall under the Harvard Ambulatory MicroRobot (HAMR) program, ranging from tethered robots the size of a penny to cockroach-sized robots carrying their own battery pack.

The designs are “on the scale of, and inspired by, both insects and myriapods,” according to Harvard. These are just some of many biologically-inspired robots as I recently mentioned, including:

Biologically inspired robots range from giant autonomous jellyfish to larger drones modeled after insects which are even capable of carrying out lethal missions to drones modeled after owls and other birds to robots modeled after cats to robots modeled after humans.

The smallest of the bunch, the HAMR-VP, is a 1.3 gram manufactured using what they call the PC-MEMS process. PC stands for printed circuit and MEMS stands for micro-electro-mechanical systems.

The techniques used to produce these tiny robots were inspired by pop-up books, allowing fabrication and assembly of components which would not otherwise be possible.

The HAMR-VP is capable of moving an astounding 37 cm/s using gait frequencies up to 70Hz. That might not sound like a lot, but that is 8.4 body lengths per second.

An average house mouse moves about 8 body lengths per second, which is about 8 miles per hour (13 km/h). In other words, this thing is pretty fast for a tiny robot.

See the robot run around below:

As you’ll see, in real time, the robotic insect is just a blur.

The HAMR-VP is capable of carrying a payload of 1.3 grams, equivalent to its total bodyweight.

Surprisingly, the entire thing is controlled at high speed using only two parameters.

Most amazing of all, however, is that the components of the HAMR-VP can be scaled down to a staggering 270mg robot.

While the smallest version isn’t nearly as fast as its bigger brother, it’s quite amazing nonetheless.

The lab has also developed a 1.7 gram autonomous walking robot called HAMR3.

This version is larger, but it can carry its own battery pack and does not need to be tethered.

With increasingly advanced forms of cockroach cyborgs and now robotic insects, one must wonder how long it will be until we start seeing tiny mechanical bugs in a wide variety of contexts.

While most people wouldn’t object to this kind of technology being leveraged for rescue operations, the page for Harvard’s RoboBee project says that it can be used for “military surveillance,” something which might be slightly less popular.

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