Scientists made a tiny robot powered by alcohol

Say hello to your new robotic drinking buddy.

Scientists really did it, they created a real-life Bender. The RoBeetle, unveiled in Science Robotics, is an insect-like microbot that runs on methanol, an alcohol commonly found in antifreeze. It's said to be the lightest and smallest fully-autonomous crawling robot ever created.

How the little robot works is pretty simple. Alloy wires in the legs function as tiny artificial muscles that can contract and relax. The wires are covered in platinum powder, which causes methanol to burn and produce heat, shortening the robot's legs. As the robot cools to expand its legs, microvalves sense the temperature change and release more fluid to heat up and contract the legs again. Voila, you have a little robot that can propel itself forward on alcohol. Remind you of anyone?

Alcohol fuel — The RoBeetle is said to be able to carry 95 milligrams of methanol that can power it for up to two hours. It's capable of climbing up inclines and can traverse varying surfaces, like glass and concrete. What's nice about liquid sources of energy is that they store more energy by volume than batteries, meaning the RoBeetle could function longer than a similarly sized robot using a lithium-ion fuel source.

Science Robotics

The team behind the RoBeetle now wants to figure out how to more easily refuel the little guy to keep it powered for longer periods of time, and program it to communicate with its human operator so it can prove more useful.

Alcohol-fueled microrobotics could offer different applications, such as allowing scientists to access hard to reach places or act as artificial pollinators — the latter being increasingly important as global warming ravages natural pollinators. Maybe someday the technology will even be repurposed to do some metal working. Then it can be renamed Bender.