Cornell’s microscopic robots have legs! In August in Nature, two Cornell professors and a former Cornell postdoctoral researcher (now a University of Pennsylvania assistant professor) detailed their developments with tiny walking robots in the article, Electronically Integrated, Mass-Manufactured, Microscopic Robots.

The robots are indeed tiny, with dimensions measured in microns (millionths of a meter). The latest versions of Cornell’s robots are about 5 microns thick, 40 microns wide, and from 40 to 70 microns long. To put those measurements in perspective, a sheet of common kitchen plastic wrap is 10-12 microns thick. The microrobot’s basic structure consists of a single circuit with four electrochemical actuators that act as legs. Silicon photovoltaic circuits produce energy when exposed to light. The Cornell researchers used laser light to activate thin platinum strips on the tiny legs to make the strips bend, which moves the leg. The team controls movement and direction by toggling the laser between front and back photovoltaics.

At this time the walking microscopic robots serve as a proof-of-concept. The Cornell researchers continue to work on the technology to develop onboard electronics. Eventually, the team envisions tiny robots that could travel through the bloodstream to repair blood vessels and other structures as needed, along with probing various areas of the body for truly internal examinations.