A View from Christopher Mims
Microrobotics Competition Shows Impressive Feats
The world’s elite microrobots break the world record in the two-millimeter dash and self-assemble like Voltron.
At The Mobile Microrobotics Challenge, which took place mid-May in Anchorage, Alaska and was sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the world’s best robotics engineers gathered to attempt some of the most impressive feats of micro-manipulation.
“When people come to our competition, they’re demonstrating something that’s publishable within a few months,” says Jason Gorman, organizer of the competition and an engineer in the Intelligent Systems Division of NIST. “We’re interested in pushing the limits of microrobots.”
This year’s lineup included three separate events: the two millimeter dash, a micro-manipulation task in which robots had to push tiny pegs into equally tiny holes, and a “freestyle” event in which the teams were allowed to show off the unique capabilities of their microrobots. The competition was so tiny it was filmed through a microscope. Below are videos of the winners of each event.
The 2 Millimeter Dash
“One question that comes up a lot with this event is, can the robot simply shoot like a bullet?” says Gorman. “The answer is no–they have to stop at a specific location. It demonstrates that they have control over the robot.”
“In macroscale robotics, the peg and hole challenge is a classic problem,” says Gorman. “Teams have to build a microrobot that can do it with pegs that are about 100 micrometers wide–that’s the width of a human hair.”