MITRE's R&D in Millimeter-Scale Robotics

MITRE's R&D in Millimeter-Scale Robotics

The MITRE Nanosystems Group has long been interested in small robotic systems as platforms for integrating the latest advances in nanotechnology-enabled electronics, sensors, and power storage devices. Until 2005, our robotics R&D efforts focused on “ant-sized” robots, each only three to five millimeters in length, constructed using the same processes used to fabricate computer chips and other semiconductor devices. The design, fabrication, and characterization of several generations of prototype components led to the conclusion that the technologies and applications for such miniscule systems required further maturity and significant R&D investments before they could become relevant to our customers' missions and interests. This realization led us to shift our R&D efforts to systems that, while significantly larger in size at ~60 millimeters, could still benefit substantially from advances in technology miniaturization such as those enabled by nanotechnology.

Beginning in 2008, we thus began taking steps to build what are now known as the MITRE millirobots. The first-generation millirobots were relatively unsophisticated systems that exhibited simple obstacle avoidance behaviors and demonstrated that dense integration of commercial-off-the-shelf components could produce a robotic platform with enough battery life and mobility to accomplish meaningful tasks.

These initial prototypes then were further improved when we introduced digital wireless networking, an on-board camera and microphone, and more sophisticated control techniques. The mechanical robustness, reliability, and modularity of the millirobots also were improved.

The ultimate goal of this R&D effort is to demonstrate "sensor-agnostic" robotic platforms that can serve as delivery or mobility platforms for arbitrary sensor payloads. These "plug-and-play" systems could be easily and quickly customized at the time of use to deliver payloads to places that humans cannot or should not go, and could find applications search and rescue, surveillance, and mobile sensor networks.

This research is conducted by MITRE senior scientists and student researchers through the Nanosystems Group Student Program.

Page last updated: September 20, 2010   |   Top of page

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