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This tiny motor can “walk” to perform complex tasks

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A team of US researchers has developed a tiny “walking” motor that can move back and forth across a surface or turn the gears of a machine. The mobile motor could pave the way for robots to assemble complex structures — including other robots, said the team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

“One emerging application is to make tiny robots that can work in confined spaces,” said Professor Neil Gershenfeld.

Langford’s initial motor has an ant-like ability to lift seven times its own weight.

The team assembled the novel motor that moves an appendage in discrete mechanical steps, which can be used to turn a gear wheel, and a mobile form of the motor that turns those steps into locomotion, allowing it to “walk” across a surface in a way that is reminiscent of the molecular motors that move muscles.

These parts could also be assembled into hands for gripping, or legs for walking, as needed for a particular task, and then later reassembled as those needs change. Gershenfeld refered to them as “digital materials,” discrete parts that can be reversibly joined, forming a kind of functional micro-LEGO.

To build in the “brains,” Langford has added part types that contain millimeter-sized integrated circuits, along with a few other part types to take care of connecting electrical signals in three dimensions.

The work was set to be presented at the ongoing “International Conference on Manipulation, Automation and Robotics at Small Scales” (MARSS) in Helsinki, Finland.

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