My passion for robots started when I was eight years old. My Uncle would always visit us on his way to/from Japan. The advantage of being a family pitstop was presents, and for me specially it was Japanese electronics and TOYS. I still remember my first Tomy Takara Transformer which back then was made from die-cast metal. I guess this also inspired me later on to build a national toy company, called RobotGalaxy…
Earlier this week, the mad scientists at MIT announced a new type of Transformer that is based upon biological structures, such as cells and proteins. Using their DARPA grant, these researchers developed “Millimeter-Scale Motorized Protein or Milli-Motein.” The Milli-Motein is essentially a chain tiny robots link together to fold and change into new shapes and sizes in a matter of seconds.
MIT’s secret sauce is its “Electropermanent Wobble Stepper Motor” that utilizes the combination of electromagnetic and electropermanent magnets. Leveraging the current of opposing magnets “rotor switches the magnetization of the electromagnetic components, causing the direction of the motor to change” all while consuming very low power. Even when the robot is turned off the electropermanent magnets maintain the configuration of the chain. The linking of each (cm sized) unit provide a continuous flexible circuit connection to communicate with each part along the chain to automatically shape-shift.
The practical applications of a robotic protein are still being analyzed, however the Wobble motor offers great promise in its size and power consumption. Stay tuned as dungeons of MIT may soon be brewing an army of microscopic transformers — “robots in disguise.”