The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has a very unique competition where microbots — robots the size of bugs and insects — will compete against one another on various parameters ranging from speed, strength, agility, and so on.
The microbot competition
With a shape and size that mimics the various insects found in nature, the microbots can prove to be a very helpful partner in situations like disaster management. Imagine a tiny robot fly easily passing through the rubble of destroyed buildings after an earthquake, looking for survivors and other critical information.
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This is something the rescue teams are unable to do right now. But by developing microbots, rescue efforts become more efficient. DARPA understands this and aims to use these robots to navigate in areas that are highly inaccessible to human beings. And this would include military applications too. In addition, these microbots will also make a major contribution in fields ranging from surgery, surveillance, and more. The robots are to be developed for DARPA’s new program called the Short-Range Independent Microrobotic Platforms (SHRIMP).
“Micro-to-mm sized platforms provide a unique opportunity to push the development of highly efficient, versatile microelectronics … While the goal of SHRIMP is to develop small-scale, independent robotics platforms, we anticipate that discoveries made through our actuator and power storage research could prove beneficial to a number of fields currently constrained by these technical challenges — from prosthetics to optical steering”, Dr. Ronald Polcawich, a DARPA program manager at the Microsystems Technology Office.
The competition and the microbots are evaluated based on their dexterity, maneuverability, and mobility. The robots will participate in games that include climbing a vertical surface, piling rocks, navigating a course blocked by various obstacles, biathlon, and so on. The best minds from across the country who are working on microrobot technologies are invited to demonstrate their unique microbots at the competition.
The development of insect-like robots is something that has been hotly researched all across the world. And at present, there are three microbots that show incredible promise — a microbot that mimics ants called R-One, termite-inspired Termes, and robotic bees nicknamed RoboBees.
They are 2 inches tall and 4 inches in diameter. These ants move at a speed of 10 inches per second in a swarm size that can range from 50 to 50,000. They will be used in applications like search and rescue, mapping, exploration, and surveillance.
These are a bit longer at 7 inches and have a swarm size numbering thousands. And even though they move at a slower speed of 4 inches per second, Termes can turn out to be incredibly useful in activities like construction and while accessing extremely remote and dangerous locations.
They have a wingspan of a little over an inch and a length of just 2/3rd of an inch. These robots can move in a swarm size of thousands at a speed of 16 inches per second. RoboBees are expected to be used for pollination, surveillance, search and rescue, and monitoring traffic.
Competitions like DARPA prove to be a good platform to encourage the development of such microbots, which can one day become a very critical technology for human progress and safety.