A swarm of robots based on ants and geckos seems like a terrifying proposition, but the reality is far cuter, and far more impressive, than you might expect.
The purpose of these super-strong µTug Microrobots is to investigate teamwork. The Stanford group behind them wanted to see how best to mimic the way ants work together to multiply their individual strength into a massive force. The result is counterintuitive—the best suited robots are relatively weak on their own, and move slowly, but their slow movements are the key, giving these movements time to overlap with those of the the other µTugs. This beats out stronger robots that can give a good hard yank on a rope, but for a shorter time, which results in a bunch of individual yanks.
If that makes the individual µTugs sound weak, they’re not. Similar to the tiny tugboats that tow huge cruise ships into port, the µTugs are just plain strong. Watch them here as six of the little creatures, weighing in at just three and a half ounces between them, pulls a 3,900-pound car. On polished concrete.
The robots have gecko-inspired material on their feet, which lets them grip even smooth surfaces like the polished concrete seen here, and when “stuck” they can generate 14 pounds of shear force each. Between them, they manage 80 pounds which, says the Stanford team, was “about two times what was necessary to overcome the static friction of the car.”
Even if they don’t want to sell this amazing robo-team as a toy, then the folks behind this could clean up selling robo-themed motivational posters.