Stand aside Wall-E. Keep quiet, R2D2. There is a new, world’s most adorable robot. It’s a mere two millimeters long–about the same size as the world’s smallest ant–and weighs less than a teaspoon of salt.
The new robot has no formal name beyond “micro-bristle-bot.” It was built at the Georgia Institute of Technology. And it’s even more impressive once you learn how it works and what it could do.
Unlike many robots, which run on electricity, this bot is powered by vibrations. Built in a four- or six-legged configuration, it’s 3D-printed with a super tiny actuator (just a moving component of a machine). A vibrating table called a piezoelectric shaker blasts out certain frequencies to power the actuator; an ordinary speaker can power it the same way. When the frequency is perfectly in-tune with the robot’s onboard components, the device comes to life, as external vibrations reverberate inside the robot to drive its springy legs up and down. That also means it won’t move from random sounds in the environment—the robot only responds to a single perfect pitch.
As a result, the robots can move four times their body length every second. And as Georgia Tech assistant professor Azadeh Ansari tells me, she believes by pairing together several robots that respond to varying frequencies, the robots could be coordinated to move together like a swarm of ants. Software could be used like an orchestra conductor, making the right sounds at the right moments to control one robot like the violin section and another like the cello.
So what could we use the micro-bristle-bot for in the future? The research team imagines them working as environmental sensors, or even making their way into the human body to repair tissues. Because they’re small, fast, and require no battery or other electricity, they are particularly well-suited for extreme environments like the human body.
Ansari says the next topics for research are to miniaturize the bots to microscopic scales so they can live under our skin, and improve their steering capabilities. Of course, tiny robots that eavesdrop on your Spotify playlist to repair your muscles after your latest deadlift session sounds pretty far off. But until that day comes, at least we have this very tiny, very cute robot to look at.