The demands placed on industrial robotics have always required a balance between capabilities and the amount of factory floor space they consume. Taking this challenge to a new level is work done by Robert Wood's team at Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, and the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).
The group has developed a microfabrication technique that uses high-performance composite materials that can incorporate flexural joints and bending actuators. Dubbed a milliDelta, these miniaturized robots can integrate industrial speed and precision for potential applications in manufacturing and medicine. Reportedly inspired by pop-up books and origami, the micro-fabrication approach enables the assembly of robots from flat sheets of composite materials.
Pop-up MEMS (MicroElectroMechanical Systems) manufacturing processes are applied to the construction of centimeter-scale machines. The milliDelta design also incorporates a composite laminate structure with embedded flexural joints that approximate the more complicated joints found in large-scale Delta robots. With the help of an assembly jig, this laminate can be precisely folded into a millimeter-scale Delta robot.
The milliDelta also utilizes piezoelectric actuators that allow it to perform movements 15 to 20 times more frequently than traditional Delta robots.
These units can operate in a workspace of about seven cubic millimeters and could be capable of small-scale pick-and-place processes, or microscopic surgeries. It could also be a unique add-on feature for existing robotic devices used in research and clinical laboratories.
Image credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University