There is a new machine on the block that is so small you might just look over it. Developed by engineers at Harvard University, the Millidelta looks a lot like other Delta robots, industrial machines used for things like food packaging or welding thanks to their exceptional speed and precision. Except the Millidelta is small. Really small. When completely unfolded, the miniature robot is barely taller than a penny.
Such small stature limits the ways in which the Millidelta can be used in the real world. It can’t, for example, place chocolate pralines into their packaging like the first Delta robots were designed to do. But in some regard, the Millidelta’s size is a big advantage and its ability to fold up in origami fashion make it ideal for conserving space.
“Smaller robots, and devices in general, generally have a higher mechanical bandwidth, meaning that they can perform trajectories at higher speeds and accelerations relative to larger robots,” Robert Wood, a Harvard engineer whose team designed the Millidelta, told Digital Trends.
The Millidelta isn’t the first miniaturized form of the popular Delta design. In fact, roboticists have been scaling down the design for years in an effort to fit the devices into small workspaces, but have struggled to make them at millimeter scale using conventional manufacturing methods.
In a paper recently published in the journal Science Robotics, Wood and his team demonstrate how their fabrication technique enables them to develop the Millidelta at such a small scale. Known as pop-up microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), the manufacturing technique can create complex structure from flat pieces of material. The researchers have previously used the technique to develop a small flying machine called the Robobee.
The Millidelta’s speed advantage is the most tantalizing result from the recent study, according to the team which develop the robot.
“The most exciting result for us is the high bandwidth that the Millidelta is able to achieve,” Hayley McClintock, a Harvard researcher who helped design the device, said. “Currently available Delta robots are only able to operate at a few hertz, so for our robot to be able to draw circles at frequencies up to 75 Hz is quite impressive.”
Outside the lab, the Millidelta may find a number of uses, from small-scale assembly to microsurgeries, which Wood said, “would benefit from high-speed and precise motion.”
“I think the next step is to narrow down an application or two and refine what are the required specifications,” he added. “Once we have that it would be fairly straightforward to modify the design and integrate with the rest of the system components, for example, power and control electronics.”