Cockroach-sized Robots Pull Full-Size Sedan

Well, if you’re not scared about the singularity yet, how about now? Stanford robotics just demonstrated six MicroTug (μTug) minibots — weighing 100g together — move an 1800kg sedan on polished concrete.

The research is being performed at Stanford’s Biomimetrics and Dextrous Manipulation Lab by [David L. Christensen] of the Engineering department — the car being pulled? His. The tests were performed to determine the effectiveness of robotic teamwork — mimicking the behaviors shown by ants.

The robots use an adhesive technique as found in gecko feet to adhere themselves to the concrete, and use micro-winches to tug the car. Individually each μTug minibot can pull 23kg. The strength to weight ratio of the hoard of minibots is 18,000:1!

Mind you it is pulling a car (on wheels) on a smooth surface. But still!

They’ve come along way since Stanford’s original StickyBot. Who wants a pair of gloves with a similar adhesive on them? We know we want some gecko hands!

[via r/Gadgets]

26 thoughts on “Cockroach-sized Robots Pull Full-Size Sedan

  1. There are three things at work here, at least, and I’m not sure which one(s) are the proverbial ones I’m supposed to be watching. (1) Presumably there’s swarming behavior, though I didn’t see it in the video. (2) Twenty-three kg of force (230-ish N, right?) out of a winch that looks to be size of an AAA cell isn’t bad, either – tons of gear reduction and a lot of torque on some small parts. (3) Gecko adhesive, because, seriously, that’s absolutely never going to get old, ever (for me).

    So which ones should I be most impressed with? That winch would be like winding kevlar fishing line over a AAA cell and picking up a Costco sack of dog food with it – even with the line doubled over a pulley, that’s more than anyone is likely to do by hand. But then there’s the Gecko adhesive. By the way – this is absolutely not any sort of criticism. This is more like “impressed curiosity” or something. Also, nice bristlebot. :-)

    1. See, now there’s some numbers that are impressive. 6 x 23kg = 138kg. These little tugs should stick themselves to a wall and lift one of the researchers off the ground – then I’d start to worry about the singularity :-)

      1. except theres not just the weight associated with the huge mass, but also the inertia. accelerating it, even ever so slowly, requires force.with 230 newtons of force, you can accelerate 1800 kg of mass onlz very slowly, but its still achievable.

        the marvel here is the impressive coordination required to have the robots pull exactly in sync

        1. True, but a puny human can also push a 2ton car quite easily on a smooth surface, especially a modern one with low rolling resistance tyres. This is being hyped as if these robots exert 2000kg of pull, when they maybe at the very most manage 1/10th of that, possibly more like 1/20th or less.

          1. The hype is not as look how much force is being exerted but that as if such force is to be exerted and we have to pull we would need a ground to hold the wenches and the tapes are providing so much grip and hence friction that the wenches can withstand themselves while pulling.

  2. Cars have really good bearings. Nice publicity stunt.

    One day years ago while doing yard work, I saw my preschool daughter pushing my car in the driveway! It was a standard, with the park brake off. I figured the driveway was level or maybe even slightly sloped down hill – until she stopped pushing and it began creeping back towards her! (She only pushed it ~1 m and then it rolled back less than 1/2).

    So call me when these things are dragging a proper tractor-pull sled that shifts a weight from the wheels to the skid as it travels…

      1. But not likely able to produce 138kg of force. My point was a car with good bearings on a smooth surface is really, really easy to move. Drag it sideways, or with the brakes set and now you are actually demonstrating real traction + pulling power.

        1. And MY point was that comparing things that are off by a factor of over 20 is kinda pointless.

          “So what this guy fell from 20 meters and was uninjured? That’s no big deal. I did the same thing from 1 meter once. When he falls from high enough to hit terminal velocity, now you are actually demonstrating survivability”

        2. These little guys are somewhere between the size of a fortune cookie and a tape measure each. It’s not about the fact that a car on a smooth surface is easy to move, it’s about the fact that they (for their size) are capable of moving the car at all. Your daughter might not be able to output 138kg of force, but she has a lot of mechanical advantage going for her, like not being ~1 inch tall, having skin as a very grippy surface, or being able to produce meaningful leverage on objects with relative ease for example.

    1. Speaking of numbers. Statistically speaking; Your recollection of the events are very likely inaccurate, especially due to the amount of time that has passed. If you want proof then you can read any number of studies on the reliability of witness testimonies. Since I’m guessing that you did not go as far to take and record any measurements with regards to the event then your ‘evidence’ is only anecdotal. So, not really evidence. I do agree that it is incredibly easy to push a car on a smooth level surface but you only have two frames of reference for this. You and your child. You are not a 16.66g robot, nor a group of six.

    2. I used to drive a car with a busted starter – I’ve had plenty of practice pushing cars around, and I agree it isn’t all that hard. I’m just impressed with getting 23 kg (equivalent) of force out of a winch that small. Let’s just spitball it and say it has a capstan about 1 cm diameter. 230 N * 0.005 meters (it’s the radius, not the dia) = 1.15 Nm ~= 10 inch-pounds. That’s not bad for what must be a pager motor and some sort of reduction. Since the towing line is doubled through a pulley block, it’s possible that the winch makes 11.5 kg force equivalent (115 N) and they’re quoting the “effective” number.

      Since the winch looks decently impressive but not necessarily a sea change in materials science, I’m going to go with the Gecko Adhesive being the prize winner here. I’ve got to get me some of that. Anyone have a source for a few cm^2?

    3. I’ll just point out your daughter was probably…what…25kg-ish? Over 250x the total weight of the little winchbots? And I’d be willing to bet she couldn’t pull 400N (~40kgf), either.

      No, pushing a car on a flat surface isn’t exactly difficult, but everyone here should already know that’s bait for the plebs and people who leave their cars in neutral when parked in the driveway. However, in order to proportionately match the winches on these 12g robots, that 25kg girl would have to be able to BENCH PRESS YOUR CAR WITH ONE ARM.

      (Numbers pulled from another video with much more modest values.)

  3. When these robots are swarming, it is called a *horde*. The robots are probably expensive, though, so you could call them a “hoard” if they were all turned off and heaped into a pile.

  4. Nice demonstration, but the laws of physics are not being remotely bent here.

    As ehud42 points out, the force required to move that car will be a lot less than the majority of us would imagine.

    Set the sedan on a “friction compensated slope”, and the force tends towards zero, set the slope a little beyond that and the car moves under the force of gravity..

    Lifting the car.. now that would be impressive, except of course a little old lady can do that with a standard car jack, and lots of turns on the handle..

    It is impressive, and at the edge of what is possible but it is also the clever application of the well understood laws physics.

  5. Video shows nothing… but some chinese like bugs. The little i can see in the vídeo is six winches towing a car.From my physics lessons that i remember of, it only needs to take high power at the inicial moment when the condition changes after that is just to easy to keep rolling.

    I would risk to say that a 3v dc motor could do it, with the apropriate gear reduction and working on bateries… From what i can see those ones have an eletric cable attached..

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