AI News, MicroFactory Platform for Smart Manufacturing

MicroFactory Platform for Smart Manufacturing

Imagine being able to harness the power of an army of ants to assemble large-scale products quickly and precisely from heterogeneous materials in today’s manufacturing environments.

For example, some micro-robots will carry components (electronic as well as mechanical, such as truss elements), some micro-robots will deposit liquids, and others will perform in situ quality analysis.

The DM3 technology is also available as a research platform to universities and other researchers to explore new applications for micro-robots where micro automation and reliable handling of heterogeneous composite materials with micro-scale manipulation is critical.

Microrobots, Working Together, Build with Metal, Glass, and Electronics

Someone glancing through the door of Annjoe Wong-Foy’s lab at SRI International might think his equipment is infested by ants.

Wong-Foy, a senior research engineer at SRI, has built an army of magnetically steered workers to test the idea that “microrobots” could be a better way to assemble electronics components, or to build other small structures.

Wong-Foy’s robotic workers have already proved capable of building towers 30 centimeters long from carbon rods, and other platforms able to support a kilogram of weight.

Another robot dips its arms into a water trough to put droplets on the ends of its arms, and then uses surface tension to pick up the rod.

It moves the platform each time a new layer is complete so the robots’ working space stays the same as the structure they’re building grows.

Much like 3-D printing technology, microrobots promise to be a more efficient way to make complex objects in small quantities than conventional mass-production technology, says Mahoney.

“We can think of manipulation at rates we’re used to seeing in information processing.” Helping to make circuit boards in small batches for prototyping new electronic devices is one possible application.

Hobbyists and small companies working on electronics hardware today make few prototype circuit boards due to the time it takes to assemble them by hand, and the expense and delay of paying for small runs at dedicated plants.

Implantable Microrobots

A team of researchers led by Biomedical Engineering Professor Sam Sia at Columbia Engineering has developed a way to manufacture microscale machines from biomaterials that can safely be implanted in the body.

Working with hydrogels, which are biocompatible materials that engineers have been studying for decades, Sia has invented a new technique that stacks the soft material in layers to make devices that have three-dimensional, freely moving parts.

They then tested the payload delivery in a bone cancer model and found that the triggering of releases of doxorubicin from the device over 10 days showed high treatment efficacy and low toxicity, at 1/10th of the standard systemic chemotherapy dose.

“Overall, our iMEMS platform enables development of biocompatible implantable microdevices with a wide range of intricate moving components that can be wirelessly controlled on demand and solves issues of device powering and biocompatibility,”

Our platform has a large number of potential applications, including the drug delivery system demonstrated in our paper which is linked to providing tailored drug doses for precision medicine.”

Conversely, structures that form locking mechanisms have to be soft and flexible to allow for the gears to slip by them during actuation, while at the same time they have to be stiff enough to hold the gears in place when the device is not actuated.

(Magnetic iron particles are commonly used and are FDA-approved for human use as contrast agents.) In collaboration with Francis Lee, an orthopedic surgeon at Columbia University Medical Center at the time of the study, the team tested the drug delivery system on mice with bone cancer.

Autonomous Flying Microrobots (RoboBees)

Inspired by the biology of a bee, researchers at the Wyss Institute are developing RoboBees, manmade systems that could perform myriad roles in agriculture or disaster relief.

A RoboBee measures about half the size of a paper clip, weighs less that one-tenth of a gram, and flies using “artificial muscles” compromised of materials that contract when a voltage is applied. Additional modifications allow some models of RoboBee to transition from swimming underwater to flying, as well as “perch” on surfaces using static electricity.

New remote-controlled microrobots for medical operations

EPFL scientist Selman Sakar teamed up with Hen-Wei Huang and Bradley Nelson at ETHZ to develop a simple and versatile method for building such bio-inspired robots and equipping them with advanced features.

They built an integrated manipulation platform that can remotely control the robots' mobility with electromagnetic fields, and cause them to shape-shift using heat.

Then an electromagnetic field is applied to orientate the nanoparticles at different parts of the robot, followed by a polymerization step to 'solidify' the hydrogel.

After this, the robot is placed in water where it folds in specific ways depending on the orientation of the nanoparticles inside the gel, to form the final overall 3-D architecture of the microrobot.

This fabrication approach allowed the researchers to build microrobots that mimic the bacterium that causes African trypanosomiasis, otherwise known as sleeping sickness.

This particular bacterium uses a flagellum for propulsion, but hides it away once inside a person's bloodstream as a survival mechanism.

better understanding of how bacteria behave 'We show that both a bacterium's body and its flagellum play an important role in its movement,' said Sakar.

'Our new production method lets us test an array of shapes and combinations to obtain the best motion capability for a given task.

Our research also provides valuable insight into how bacteria move inside the human body and adapt to changes in their microenvironment.'

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