Smart microrobots walk autonomously with electronic “brains”

A group of scientists from Cornell University have recently developed micro-robots that are no more than 100-250 micrometers size – smaller than an ant’s head – and have basic electronic “brains” that enable them to move on their own.

The electronic “brains” have been installed on solar-powered robots and they can walk autonomously without being externally controlled. The team’s paper, “Microscopic Robots with Onboard Digital Control” was published on September 21, 2022 in Science Robotics.

Image Credits: Reynolds et al. / Cornell University

Extremely tiny robots have been possible to manufacture for a long time, but they have always had “strings” attached. Wires have typically been utilized to provide electrical current or laser beams which were needed to be focused on certain areas of the robots.

Instead of these “strings”, the new micro-robots have electronic “brains” that give them autonomy. “It’s like when Pinocchio gains consciousness”, asserted Itai Cohen, professor of from Cornell University.

The strategy was to give these micro-robots the capacity of moving independently without being controlled externally. The team has developed three types of robots:

  • A four-legged dogbot that can change its walking speed thanks to a modified circuit that receives commands via laser pulse.

  • A six-legged antbot that walks with an alternate tripod gait like an insect.

  • A two-legged Purcell bot (that pays homage to physicist Edward Purcell, who proposed a similarly simple model to explain the swimming motions of microorganisms)

The newly developed robots can walk faster than 10 micrometers per second and are 10,000 times smaller than macro scale robots which have onboard CMOS circuitry.


These recent advancements unlock numerous opportunities for a novel cohort of autonomous miniature robots, capable of contributing significantly to healthcare applications like performing surgical operations and cleaning arteries.

The micro-robots have the potential to detect substances and pollutants in diverse environments. Although their full-fledged development is still years away, this experiment attests to their technical feasibility and potential practicality.

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