In this dissertation we study microrobot design for three modes of locomotion, namely rolling, jumping, and flying. This work covers power electronics, actuator and mechanical transmission design for these types of microrobots along with power source selection. Though interesting, we do not cover the sensors, controllers/computers, communications and useful payloads for these bots. This remains a topic for future work.
Piezoelectric and electrostatic actuators generally have been the actuators of choice for researchers working in microrobotics, since conventional electromagnetic motor designs don't scale down well. Here we design an electromagnetic actuator in a way that significantly reduces its scaling down disadvantages, while still retaining its original advantages. This has enabled us to achieve untethered operation for our bots, which is one of the coveted goals for researchers working in this domain. Though untethered rolling and jumping is demonstrated, the untethered flying bot reported in this dissertation remains underpowered and doesn't take flight yet.
First a micro-ratcheting mechanism is developed as a means to convert small periodic motions of actuators to continuous rotational motion. A supercapacitor, a fixed frequency H-bridge, and a low-voltage electromagnetic actuator is then used to drive this micro-ratchet to achieve untethered rolling motion for 8 seconds at 27mm/s. At 130mg mass, this is the lightest and fastest untethered rolling microrobot reported yet.
The same continuous rotation mechanism developed for the rolling bot is then used to load a spring in an energy storage mechanism that can then release the stored energy rapidly and passively, via use of magnets, after the stored energy crosses a certain threshold. In this case, the continuous rotation mechanism is driven using laser-powered photovoltaic cells and untethered jumping up to heights of 8mm is demonstrated. At 75mg mass, it is the lightest untethered jumping microrobot with onboard power source.
Next, a highly efficient resonant low-voltage electromagnetic actuator is developed to generate insect-like flapping wing motion. It is demonstrated to produce 90% of its weight in lift. Further light-weight and power-efficient power electronics are developed to power this actuator using laser-powered photovoltaic cells. The designed power electronics are an order of magnitude lighter and two orders of magnitude more efficient than all other power electronics units reported yet for flying microrobots. While sufficient lift for flight is not achieved, due to the actuator being underpowered because of power source overheating, untethered flapping wing motion is demonstrated.
To provide inspiration to future generations of microroboticists, a fruit fly scale flapping winged robot is developed. At 0.7mg mass, even though tethered, it is the lightest and smallest bot to demonstrate flapping wing kinematics.