They've played soccer, run dashes and deftly inserted pegs into holes—all within a world that can fit inside a single grain of rice. Now, it's time for microrobots—mechanical workhorses whose dimensions are measured in micrometers (millionths of a meter)—to show off their abilities in a friendly competition of miniature maneuvering and manufacturing skills.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), in collaboration with IEEE, is inviting teams currently engaged in microrobotic, microelectronic or microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) research to participate in the NIST Mobile Microrobotics Challenge 2011. The competition will be held as part of the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, May 9-13, 2011, in Shanghai, China.
Viewed under a microscope, the microbots are operated by remote control and move in response to changing magnetic fields or electrical signals transmitted to a microchip operating environment. The microbots are a few tens of micrometers to a few hundred micrometers long, and their masses can range from less than a milligram down to just a few nanograms (billionths of a gram). They are manufactured from materials such as aluminum, nickel, gold, silicon and chromium.
The Mobile Microrobotics Challenge 2011 will pit tiny robotic contestants against each other in two events: a mobility challenge in which microrobots will be required to navigate a planar (two-dimensional) maze having the diameter of a pin head; and a microassembly challenge where the competitors must put together multiple microscale components in a narrow channel to simulate operations within a blood vessel by a future medical applications microbot.
These events are designed to "road test" agility, maneuverability, response to computer control and the ability to move objects—all skills that future industrial microbots will need for tasks such as microsurgery within the human body or the manufacture of microscopic electronic devices.
NIST is organizing the 2011Mobile Microrobotics Challenge with the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society. NIST's goal in coordinating competitions between the world's smallest robots is to show the feasibility and accessibility of technologies for fabricating MEMS, which are tiny mechanical devices built onto semiconductor chips. The contests also drive innovation in this new field of robotics by inspiring young scientists and engineers to become involved.
To apply for the NIST Mobile Microrobotics Challenge, teams must submit a proposal by Dec. 1, 2010, by electronic mail to microrobotics2011 [at] nist.gov, or by standard mail to: NIST Microrobotics Challenge 2011, c/o Craig McGray, NIST, 100 Bureau Dr., MS 8120, Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8120. Proposals must include: a roster of individuals contributing to the team; contact information for the team leader; a list of the facilities available for fabrication, operation and characterization of microrobots; an overview of the microrobot design; an overview of the intended capabilities of the microrobot; and an overview of the fabrication process to be used.
Official rules for the NIST Mobile Microrobotics Challenge 2011 may be found online.