DARPA is developing a new microbot to assist in times of natural disaster and catastrophe. 

The field of robotics is now advancing to the point where we can begin to rely on them for assistance in rescue and reconnaissance missions. Now, DARPA is spearheading this project.

Dubbed “SHRIMP”, DARPA’s SHort-Range Independent Microrobotic Platforms will eventually help out in times of need and disaster.

How does this project differ from other micromachine initiatives?

image from Ghost in the Shell "Into the Other Side of Paradise" for article about micromachines and DARPA Developing SHRIMP: Insect-Sized Disaster Robots
Ghost in the Shell “Into the Other Side of Paradise” | Production I.G.

Ghost in the Shell Vibes Anyone?

If anyone is a fan of the series Ghost in the Shell, you might remember the “Japanese Miracle” plot from the extended anime series.

Essentially, someone finally cracked the secret to developing nanomachines. After that, in the series, the country of Japan plans to use the micromachines to scrub radiation from the air after a planned bombing.

However, these micromachines measured about 1/1000000 of a millimeter. That means the DARPA insect-sized robots don’t quite measure “down” yet.

But the capabilities are no less exciting and innovative.

 

image of the SHRIMP robot components for article DARPA Developing SHRIMP: Insect-Sized Disaster Robots
SHRIMP robot components | DARPA

Designed for Natural Disasters Humanity Can’t Handle

The news release from DARPA outlined the exact purpose of these disaster robots.

Specifically, the release highlighted how the disaster robots could help in times of earthquakes regarding the systemic destruction of structures and buildings. This includes infrastructure, as well, which can be more threatening to humanity in the long-term.

Dr. Ronald Polcawich, the program manager in the Microsystems Technology Office (MTO) of DARPA, described the robots’ duties:

“Whether in a natural disaster scenario, a search and rescue mission, a hazardous environment, or other critical relief situation, robots have the potential to provide much-needed aid and support.”

“However, there are a number of environments that are inaccessible for larger robotic platforms. Smaller robotics systems could provide significant aide, but shrinking down these platforms requires significant advancement of the underlying technology.”

These goals remain noble, but the technology to get micro and milli robotics lags behind.

Besides the goal to have SHRIMP robots help in disasters, DARPA wants the program to improve overall understanding of actuator technologies. This relates to several aspects of robotics including:

  • robotic platform mobility
  • dexterity
  • load-bearing capacity
  • strength-to-weight ratio
  • force generation
  • max work density
  • overall efficiency

Polcawich also pointed out that the strength-to-weight ratio influences overall endurance and load-bearing capabilities of actuator-based robotic platforms of any size.

image of a Doctor Who Cyberman for article DARPA Developing SHRIMP: Insect-Sized Disaster Robots
Cybermen from Doctor Who | BBC via Rebloggy

Actuator Improvements Will Ripple Throughout Robotics

Given that actuators can influence so many aspects of robotics, it makes sense that DARPA wants to invest in their improvements.

The different kinds of actuators lend themselves to specific types of robots. For instance, hydraulic actuators require an incompressible fluid to operate. A pneumatic actuator relies on the principle of pressurized gas/air (pneumatics) instead.

There are also actuating materials that may soon yield artificial robot muscles, too.

In the spirit of innovation, DARPA introduced a competitive element to their SHRIMP platform research. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will evaluate each project at their Robotics Test Facility.

These evaluations will determine a disaster robot’s potential field functionality through a series of tests involving mobility, speed, load-bearing capabilities, and more.

Perhaps these research projects will affect nanobot technology in the future, as well.

What uses for disaster robots can you think of in times of dire need?

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