Pop-up Bug Robots

By | February 23, 2012

Mass-produced robot insects. I mean, hey, what could possibly go wrong?

In new mass-production technique, robotic insects spring to life

Production method inspired by children’s pop-up books enables rapid fabrication of tiny, complex devices

Devised by engineers at Harvard, the ingenious layering and folding process enables the rapid fabrication of not just microrobots, but a broad range of electromechanical devices.

In prototypes, 18 layers of carbon fiber, Kapton (a plastic film), titanium, brass, ceramic, and adhesive sheets have been laminated together in a complex, laser-cut design. The structure incorporates flexible hinges that allow the three-dimensional product—just 2.4 millimeters tall—to assemble in one movement, like a pop-up book.

Swarms of creatures such as these are almost certainly part of our future. One of the interesting passages in the linked article refers to little robots being used to build even smaller robots. So by the time we have little bugs constantly watching us, feeding us data, protecting us from other little bugs, etc. they might be much smaller even than what we see here. Perhaps they will be no bigger than a dust mite.

Mass production means that these devices can produced redundantly and will probably be seen as highly expendable. At the size shown above, they will constantly be swatted, caught in doors, smashing into windshields, and on and on. At the dust mite stage, we will be forever accidentally eating and inhaling them.