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The tiny RoboBee uses electrostatic adhesion to perch on surfaces, allowing it to save energy © Wyss Institute

What’s the smallest robot?

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With technological advances, computers are getting ever smaller enabling the creation of some miniscule robots.

Asked by: Rob Ennis, Leicester

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The world’s smallest flying robot is the ‘RoboBee’ developed at the Wyss Institute, Harvard. It’s the size of your fingernail but needs to be tethered to a cable to power its wings. The smallest crawling, untethered micro-robot is only 0.2mm long. It is powered through a special floor that contains tiny electrodes. These induce an electrical charge in the robot, enabling it to move like an inchworm.

Scientists at the University of Mainz in Germany recently took the first step towards a molecular-sized nanobot, when they created a heat-powered motor using a single vibrating atom trapped in a nano-sized cone of electromagnetic radiation. Amazingly, it has the same working principles as a car engine: expanding, cooling, contracting, then heating.


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Authors

Dr Peter Bentley is a computer scientist and author who is based at University College London. He is the author of books including 10 Short Lessons in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics and Digital Biology: How nature is transforming our technology and our lives.

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