Remember those old electric football games that used a vibrating tabletop surface to send teams of tiny NFL players scrambling around the field?
Well, researchers at SRI International are developing a super-miniaturized, high-tech variation on the theme in which tiny worker robots shimmy around a circuit board in a micro assembly plant. The ‘bots are guided by magnets underneath the surface, and work in sync to assemble electronics parts and small mechanical systems.
The Diamagnetic Micro Manipulation (DM3) system uses magnets under the circuit board to guide the tick-sized robots in precise patterns. Because of their small mass, the bots can move very quickly and in fact in the demo video below they appear to jump like fleas.
As with so many other things in life, cooperation is key. The circuit board is designed so that each tiny bot works in absolute synchronization with all the other bots — movements are precise down the the microsecond. The prototype system uses only a handful of microbots, but the idea is to scale the system up to employ thousands of mechanized blue-collar workers.
The DM3 concept is part of the DARPA Open Manufacturing program, which encourages lateral thinking in the manufacturing process. “Our vision is to enable an assembly head containing thousands of micro-robots to manufacture high-quality macro-scale products while providing millimeter-scale structural control,” according to the SRI project page.
The system has several potential applications, according to SRI. These include non-silicon-based electronics, prototyping of high-quality parts and — rather ominously — “tissue manufacturing.”
No word yet on the inevitable union issues, but it’s only a matter of time before the mechanical proletariat learn about collective bargaining.
Credit: SRI International via YouTube