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Stanford’s Small But Powerful Microtugs

Stanford's super strong MicroTugs were inspired by geckos and ants. (Photo credit: Karen Ladenheim)
Stanford’s super strong MicroTugs were inspired by geckos and ants. (Photo credit: Karen Ladenheim)

Imagine a human capable of pulling a whale. Tiny robots called Microtugs now exist with similar superpowers.

Researchers at Stanford have created small robots than can apply orders of magnitude more force than they weigh. The team plans to present its work next month at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Seattle, Washington.

A few different variations of the robots have been created, including a 12g ground-based robot that can pull 40N in shear force, and a 9g climbing robot that can climb while carrying 10N of load. Both incorporate a directional adhesive technology that was inspired by gecko feet.

The bots can press and release their adhesive segment easily, because the segment isn’t stick until it has a force pulling on it. To pull an object across a flat surface, the robot must first be connected to it via it’s tiny tow cable. Then the bot drives away from the object before attaching it’s belly — now sticky from straining — to the surface. A small winch then reels in the tow cable, dragging the object along with it.

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