KSC Biomimicry - Mini-bots: The Pulse of the Planet daily radio program offers free legal online mp3 downloads, exploring the world of sound in nature, culture and science, with audio adventures, world music, extraordinary sound portraits, science diaries, and nature ring-tones; an amazing sonic experience.

Airdate: Oct 06, 2009
Scientist: Dr. Ron Fearing

KSC Biomimicry - Mini-bots

KSC Biomimicry - Mini-bots
Miniature robots: going where no person can.


music; ambience scratching

If you’ve got a dangerous job to do, and you need something small, fast and versatile to help out, who’re you gonna call? I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. I would call Ron Fearing, a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, at the University of California in Berkeley. He’s developing tiny robots whose capabilities are inspired by the behavior of small animals.

RF: “Small animals are very fast. They’re very maneuverable. They can go all sorts of places which are very difficult for people to go. So, our idea is that by building these robots that are very mobile, very maneuverable, we’ll be able to send them in places it’s too dangerous for a person to go in. For example, if a building’s on fire, it would be much safer to send in a few dozen very small robots that you could command to go find someone who’s injured, and that would spare a firefighter from possibly getting trapped in a dangerous situation.”

So what sets this new breed of mini-robots apart from existing technologies?

RF: “The robots we make, they’ll fit in your hand. So, they’re very lightweight. They weigh only about 20 grams a couple ounces or less. Because they’re so small, they’re very fast very quick and they can go places that a bigger robot couldn’t go. We want to make them small enough so they’ll go underneath a door or crawl through a heating duct, and to do this, the robot needs to be very small and lightweight. If you make a robot which weighs as much as a person, it’s just not going to be able to do things or go places the very small robots can go.”

You can see pictures of Ron Fearing’s robots and learn how you can construct your own mini robot model at KidScienceChallenge.com, our nationwide competition for third to sixth graders, made possible by the National Science Foundation. That’s KidScienceChallenge.com. You’ve been listening to Pulse of the Planet. I’m Jim Metzner.