At a TED Institute Event, Marc Miskin Talks About “Tiny Robots with Giant Potential”

At a TED Institute Event, Marc Miskin Talks About “Tiny Robots with Giant Potential”

Marc Miskin, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Systems Engineering is building a “future robot army,” 10,000 bots at a time and small enough to pass through the “thinnest hypodermic needle you can buy.”

Miskin showed off his microscopic creations at TED@NAS, a TED Institute event given in partnership with The Kavli Foundation, the Simons Foundation and the National Academy of Sciences. There, he shared the stage with Paul McEuen, the Cornell physicist with whom Miskin worked as a post-doctoral researcher.

Together they described how advances in computer chip design and materials science have enable the rise of their robot army. By borrowing manufacturing techniques that have enabled engineers to fit millions of transistors in a space no bigger than a single-celled organism, these microscopic robots can be mass-produced on a silicon wafer. Their legs, only a few atoms thick, can then be made to flex by a pinpoint application of laser light.

If you take platinum and put it in water and apply a voltage to it, atoms from the water will attach or remove themselves from the surface of the platinum, depending on how much voltage you use. This creates a force, and you can use that force for voltage-controlled actuation. The key here was to make everything ultrathin. Then your actuator is flexible enough to bend to these small sizes without breaking, and it can use the forces that come about from just attaching or removing a single layer of atoms.

Watch Miskin and McEuen’s entire talk at