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Tiny vibration-powered robots are the size of the world's smallest ant

Researchers have created a new type of tiny 3D-printed robot that moves by harnessing vibration from piezoelectric actuators, ultrasound sources or even tiny speakers. Swarms of these "micro-bristle-bots" might work together to sense environmental changes, move materials -- or perhaps one day repair injuries inside the human body. The prototype robots respond to different vibration frequencies depending on their configurations, allowing researchers to control individual bots by adjusting the vibration. Approximately two millimeters long -- about the size of the world's smallest ant -- the bots can cover four times their own length in a second despite the physical limitations of their small size. The micro-bristle-bots consist of a piezoelectric actuator glued onto a polymer body that is 3D-printed using two-photon polymerization lithography (TPP). The actuator generates vibration and is powered externally because no batteries are small enough to fit onto the bot. The vibrations can also come from a piezoelectric shaker beneath the surface on which the robots move, from an ultrasound/sonar source, or even from a tiny acoustic speaker. The vibrations move the springy legs up and down, propelling the micro-bot forward. Each robot can be designed to respond to different vibration frequencies depending on leg size, diameter, design and overall geometry. The amplitude of the vibrations controls the speed at which the micro-bots move.

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