Advances show the promise of ‘meta-bots’ designed to assist in drug delivery or rescue operations

A team of UCLA engineers and their colleagues have developed a new design technique and 3D printing technique for building robots in one step.

A survey describing the progress, as well as the construction and performance of small robots that walk, maneuver and jump, has been published. Science.

This advancement allows all the mechanical and electronic systems required to operate a robot to be created through a new type of 3D printing process (also called metamaterial) for technologically enabled materials with multiple functions. Once printed in 3D, a “meta-bot” will be able to move, navigate, sense and make decisions.

Printed metamaterials are composed of an internal network of sensitive, mobile, and structural elements and can run on their own by following programmed commands. Already with an internal speed and sensing network, the only external component needed is a small battery to get the robot.

“We hope that this approach to designing and printing smart robotic materials will help realize a class of self-contained materials that could replace the current complex assembly process for building a robot,” said Jiao Zhou (Rhine) Zheng, associate lead researcher. Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UCLA Samuel School of Engineering. “Integrated with complex movements, multiple sensory modes and programmable decision-making abilities, all closely related, it resembles a biological system where nerves, bones and tendons work together to perform controlled movements. A

The team demonstrated integration with an on-board battery and controller for the fully autonomous operation of 3D-printed robots – the size of each fingernail. According to Zheng, who is also a colleague at UCLA’s California Nanosystem Institute, the method could lead to new designs for biomedical robots, such as self-guided endoscopes or miniature swimming robots, which can emit ultrasound and emit drugs. From specific target sites in the body.

These “meta-bots” can also explore dangerous environments. In a collapsed building, for example, a swarm of these tiny robots equipped with built-in sensing devices can quickly enter confined spaces, assess threat levels and assist in rescue efforts by locating people trapped in the rubble.

Most robots, regardless of size, are usually built in a series of complex manufacturing steps that integrate organs, electronics and active ingredients. Compared to robots built using this new method, this process results in heavier weights, larger volumes, and lower output power.

The key to the UCLA-led all-in-one approach is the design and printing of piezoelectric metamaterials – a class of complex lattice components that can reshape and move in response to an electric field. Where Create an electric charge as a result of physical energy.

The use of active materials capable of translating electricity into movement is not new. However, these materials usually have limitations in speed and travel distance. They must be connected to a gearbox type transmission system to achieve the desired mobility.

In contrast, the robotic components made by UCLA – each the size of a penny – consist of complex piezoelectric and structural components designed to bend, bend, twist, rotate, stretch, or compress at high speeds.

The team also presented a method for designing these robotic devices so that users could create their own models and print the materials directly into a robot.

“It can be precisely arranged across robots for rapid, complex and extended movement over a variety of terrain,” said Huachen Qui, lead author of the study and UCLA’s postdoctoral researcher at the Zheng Additive Manufacturing and Metamaterials Lab. “Thanks to the two-way piezoelectric effect, robotic elements can sense their distortions on their own, detect barriers through echo and ultrasonic emissions, as well as respond to external stimuli through a feedback control loop that determines how fast robots move and how fast they move. The goal is to move them.

Using this technique, the team created and displayed three “meta-bots” with different capabilities. One robot can navigate around obstacles placed at S-shaped angles and randomly, the other can escape in response to the effects of communication, while the third robot can walk on rough terrain and even make small jumps.

Other authors of the UCLA study are graduate students Desheng Yao, Ryan Hensley, Zhenpeng Xu, and Hautian Lu; Postdoctoral researcher Ariel Calderon; Jane Wang, Development Engineering Associate. Other authors include Sheda Davaria, a research associate at Virginia Tech; Patrick Mercier, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at UC San Diego; And Pablo Tarazaga, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at A&M University, Texas.

The study was supported by a Young Faculty Award and Directors Fellowship Award from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), in addition to the US Office of Naval Research, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the National Science Foundation.

Advances include 3D printing techniques previously developed by Zheng and Hensleigh when they were both researchers at Virginia Tech, which has patents. Researchers plan to file an additional patent for the new method developed at UCLA through UCLA’s Technology Development Group.

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