RoBeetle Autonomous Methanol Robot
Photo credit: Science Robotics via IEEE Spectrum
USC researchers reveal RoBeetle, a tiny autonomous methanol-powered robot without any electronics. Weighing just 88-milligrams, it has four legs, with the rear ones being fixed, while the front legs are attached to a transmission connected to a leaf spring specially tensioned to pull the legs backward to help it stand upright when not in motion. It boasts a nickel-titanium (NiTi) shape-memory alloy (SMA) actuator so the structural design of the robot can modulate the flow of methanol using a purely mechanical system.

RoBeetle does have small horns that double as hooks to help it carry small things. The actuator, a platinum-coated wire that gets longer when it heats up and shrinks when it cools down, cycle is how the robot moves. How so? The platinum coating on the wire causes a reaction between the methanol fuel and oxygen in the air, generating water molecules and carbon dioxide along with heat. Each cycle enables robot moves forward by 1.2 millimeters, with a top speed of 0.76 millimeters per second.

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RoBeetle Autonomous Methanol Robot

The way that the sliding vent is attached to the transmission is the really clever bit about this robot because it means that the motion of the wire itself is used to modulate the flow of fuel through a purely mechanical system. Essentially, it’s an actuator and a sensor at the same time,” said the researchers.

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