If one day swarms of tiny robots will never be used for purposes like pollinate flowers or exploring disaster sites, they will have to have a lot of stamina. A robot created at the EPFL research institute in Switzerland seems to fit quite a bit, as it can withstand even the blows of a fly swatter.
Weighing less than a gram, the insect-like robot moves through artificial muscles known as actuators "integrated dielectric elastomer" or DEA. Hence its name, DEAnsect.
Each of its three silicone legs contains a DEA, which in turn consists of an elastomer membrane sandwiched between two soft electrodes. When a low voltage current is applied, the electrodes are attracted towards each other, compressing the membrane. Once the current is interrupted they move away, allowing the membrane to expand to its original thickness.
It turns on and off over 400 times per second, causing the DEAsect to vibrate forward at a rate of 3 cm (1,2 inches) per second.
There are currently two versions of the device. The first is wired to an external power and control system. It is this robot insect that can be crushed by a fly swatter or crushed by a shoe, and continue on its way undeterred.
The second version is independent, with integrated battery and microcontroller. Using the integrated "eyes" it is able to autonomously trace and follow the black and white patterns printed on the ground.
Its creators are now working on a system that would allow multiple DEAnsects to communicate with each other, so that they can coordinate their movements. In short, a robotic swarm.
The research also involved scientists from the French University of Cergy-Pontoise. It was described in an article recently published in the scientific journal Science Robotics.
Here are some DEAnsect in action in this video.