Harvard - School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
 

Harvard’s Cockroach-Inspired HAMR MicroRobot Attains Full Autonomous Ambulation

  • 9 February 2018
  • Sam Mire

If you follow robotics closely, you may have heard of Harvard Engineering and Applied Science’s HAMR ambulatory robot. The third generation of the bug-sized, walking robot is complete, and it has made significant strides over its predecessors in terms of autonomy, speed, power storage, and cool factor.

The HAMR acronym arises from the term Harvard Ambulatory Robot. The third iteration of HAMR has evolved from the ambitions of a team led by professor Robert J. Wood not to sacrifice the complexity found in modern autonomous robots while reducing the size of the bot itself.

In the past, HAMR’s speed and functionality has been inhibited by a tethered system which was required to establish the control over its movements that the team desired. But the latest version of the millimeter-scale MicroRobot, HAMR-F, changes that completely, allowing for wirelessly controlled movements that escaped possibility in prior years.

With a 4.5mm-long body and a weight of only 2.8 grams, HAMR-F defies conventional thought about robotic scale and functionality. While you may not (currently) be able to find a function for the bot beyond scaring the wits out of unsuspecting friends and family members, Harvard’s cockroach-bot represents a feat of robotics in and of itself. And, as you’ll soon find out, the future does hold some seriously useful tasks in store for this little guy.

HAMR-F’s speed of 17.2 cm per second is 300 percent faster than previous HAMRs’ non-tethered speed, and is nearly as quick as previous versions even when they were connected via wire to the controlling remote. Having improved upon the robot’s build, increased its powertrain, and taken significant steps toward allowing complete autonomy in such a small robot, professor Wood’s team continues to re-define the limits of micro-robotics.

And, as author of Harvard’s latest HAMR paper Benjamin Goldberg told IEEE, there actually are plausible uses for such a tiny, ambulatory microbot.

One of the target applications for HAMR-F is to inspect and diagnose machinery or areas with limited accessibility— an engine or ductwork, for example, Goldberg said. To realize these applications, we still need added sensors (e.g., a camera, gas composition), but these can be easily integrated due to the expandable circuit boards and payload carrying capacity of HAMR-F.

About Sam Mire

Data journalist and market research analyst focused on emerging technology, trends, and ideas.

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