Sure, the new Tesla can park itself in a garage, but who needs that when you could just hire a squad of crazy-strong micro-robots to do it for you?
OK, sure, they might not be the most efficient valet option, but when you consider that the six 17-gram microbots are (very slowly) pulling an object that weighs almost 4,000 pounds, it becomes a bit more impressive.
Scientists at Stanford University’s Biomimetics and Dexterous Manipulation Laboratory have been working on ways to increase the collective strength of small robots, which they call microTugs. MicroTugs are modeled in some ways after ants, whose incredible proportional strength and cooperation let them move objects many times their size. The end result is both freakishly strong and kind of cute.
The BDML crew also made their microTugs part gecko — they use a system of tiny rubber spikes to give the bots a super-strong grip on surfaces, like the pads on geckos paws.
The rubber spikes can even let some models of microTug pull loads up vertical walls — slowly, but securely.
But despite their impressive strength, one tug isn’t enough. The BDML researchers want to explore the applications of teams of microbots working together, which, with simultaneous movements, amplify their strength.
“By considering the dynamics of the team, not just the individual, we are able to build a team of our ‘microTug’ robots that, like ants, are super strong individually, but then also work together as a team,” David Christensen, a graduate student and author of an upcoming paper describing the ‘Tugs progress, told The New York Times. Christensen, who also owns the car, said the tugs’ feat was comparable to six human beings pulling the entire Eiffel Tower and three Statues of Liberty. His team’s findings will come out in a paper presented this May at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Stockholm.
Watch the whole car-pulling show below.