AA4CC ranked 4th at 2012 NIST Microrobotics Challenge
Our team ranked 4th at NIST Mobile Microrobotics Challenge 2012, which took place during 2012 ICRA (IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation) in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA, May 14-18, 2012. The total number of competitors who qualified for the event was nine. Namely, the undergraduate student Jakub Drs and Dr. Zdeněk Hurák attended the event. Keeping their fingers crossed back in Prague were other members of the team - the doctoral student Jiří Zemánek, who actually initiated our participation in the competition, and three graduate students Adam Hamr, Josef Muller and Václav Endrych. Great support also came from the partners in GAČR funded Biocentex project, namely Dr. František Foret and Dr. Jakub Grym through fabrication of the microelectrode array. Many thanks also go to Hlávkova nadace for funding part of Jakub's travel expenses.
All robots entered in the competition must be no bigger than 600 micrometers in their largest dimension and must be able to operate without the direct connection of wires (i.e., untethered operation.) The competition consists of two events structured to test each microrobot’s speed, agility, and ability to manipulate small objects. Mobility Challenge: Microrobots are required to navigate a planar maze in the shape of a figure eight. The total elapsed time is used to rank the teams. Microassembly Challenge: Microrobots must assemble multiple microscale components inside a narrow channel. This task simulates anticipated applications of microassembly, including manipulation within a human blood vessel and the assembly of components in nanomanufacturing. Multiple cooperating microrobots are be allowed.
Our team has been conducting research in the area of planar micromanipulation using dielectrophoresis. It consists in shaping the (gradient of) electric field by applying voltages to properly designed planar microelectrodes. With our recent desing of a microelectrode array and some clever yet simple control strategies we were able to respond to Mobility Challenge task, where the particle to be manipulated is a few tens of micron sized polystyrene microbead. The attached video shows our pre-competition performance.
Although three teams scored better in the Mobility Challenge (CNRS, Carnegie Mellon and US Naval Academy), we regard our participation a great success. First, unlike all the other teams, this was our first participation. Since the tasks have remained identical for the last three years, all the other teams had an opportunity to learn from previous mistakes and finetune their solutions. Second, we were the first who presented a working solution based on dielectrophoresis, whereas majority of teams relied on magnetic manipulation. While being very fast and precise, controllable magnetic fields may be excluded in certain applications. Third, we are particularly proud about simplicity of our solution, which can be best assessed in the pictures: we just brought a simple PCB board with a cheap portable DC adapter and a pipette. The visual contrast in the supporting instrumentation across teams was enjoyable for us :-)
We are looking forward to the next Microrobotics Challenge! Supposedly it will be organized during 2013 ICRA in Karlsruhe, Germany.