Building a robot usually involves exotic materials, complicated engineering and some programing prowess right? Not so, if you do what researchers from University of Hawaii's Department of Electrical Engineering did recently - Create them from bubbles of gas!
To build these incredibly simple, yet effective bots, the team led by Aaron Ohta took a fine-tipped syringe filled with air and built an army of bubbles inside a saline solution. They then used an ingenious mechanism to control them remotely - a powerful 400mW infrared laser. When the laser beam was focused on the bubble's inner surface, the fluid around it became hot and tried to move from the warm area to the cooler side, moving the bubble along with it.
This simple method allowed the scientists to move the bubble in any direction they wanted - All they had to do was point the laser in from different angles. Also, since the movement of the bubbles is directly related to the intensity of the energy created by the laser, the speed of the 'robots' can manipulated with great precision by simply controlling the amount of light expanded by the laser.
Not only are these bots cheap to create, they are also more effective than the currently used micro-robots that are controlled by magnetic fields. That's because those can only be moved around in groups. The bubble robots on the other hand, can be pushed around individually by using multiple infrared lasers.
Since these bubble robots do not have any programming, they of course cannot be used for as broad a range as their smarter counterparts. But they do have their uses. The scientists envision them as microscopic bulldozers that can help push and place into position other tiny molecules very accurately.
One of the most practical uses they envision? An army of robot bubbles cleaning up the bath tub. The best part is that there would be no scrubbing required and no residue left - Just a simple pop and poof - The robot would magically disappear!
Resources: gizmondo.com, wired.co.uk