Soft actuators help mit power nano drones

Researchers at MIT have created a tiny robot, weighing less than 1 gram, that can zip around with insect-like agility and resilience. The team’s rectangular robot has four sets of wings, each driven by an actuator, that beat nearly 500 times per second. The actuators work like artificial muscles, and are made up of layers of elastomer placed between two very thin electrodes.

One defect after another

The actuator requires less voltage with more surface area, so the team tried to build as many thin layers of elastomer and electrode as possible. The team was able to create layers that were only 10 micrometers in thickness by rethinking the fabrication process. By solving this problem, they were able to increase the power output of the actuator by more than 300% and increase the lifespan of the robot.

The team also ran into issues with the thin electrodes in the actuator. The electrodes are made up of carbon nanotubes that are about 1/50,000 the diameter of a human hair. The resulting robot could hover for 20 seconds. This is the longest ever recorded by a sub-gram robot.

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