3DPrinting.com reports that combustion-powered micro robots made with 3D printing surpass their electric counterparts.


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In a groundbreaking development, scientists at Cornell University have created tiny, insect-sized robots powered by combustion rather than conventional electric mechanisms. Led by Rob Shepherd, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, the team utilized soft microactuators and high-energy-density chemical fuels to achieve exceptional force output and agility compared to their electrically-driven counterparts.

The architecture of these robots includes two separate combustion chambers connected to four actuators that serve as feet. When methane and oxygen are ignited in these chambers, the actuators expand, enabling the robot to perform various gaits and jumps. The force exerted by these actuators is an impressive 9.5 newtons, significantly higher than the 0.2 newtons produced by electric robots of a similar size.

One of the key advantages of these combustion-powered robots is their controllability. Operators have the ability to adjust the speed and frequency of the robot’s movement by modifying the fuel input and sparking rate. Although the current version of the robot is tethered, the team plans to develop an untethered version using liquid fuel in the future.

This innovative design also allows the robot to lift 22 times its own body weight and operate at frequencies above 100 Hz. According to researcher Cameron Aubin, being powered by combustion enables these robots to navigate difficult terrains, clear obstacles, jump impressive distances, and move quickly on the ground. The force density and power density of these fuel-driven actuators make all of this possible.

Looking ahead, the scientists aim to focus on creating parallel arrays of actuators for more precise movements and to transition to liquid fuels for on-board storage. This trajectory of development could potentially redefine the capabilities of small robots, opening up applications in complex terrain navigation and micro-mechanical tasks.

The impact of this research is expected to be significant in the field of robotics. With their advanced capabilities, these combustion-powered robots have the potential to revolutionize various industries and may find use in scenarios where conventional electric robots have limitations.

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