Engineers of Northwestern University have invented the tiniest remote-controlled walking robot that can walk, twist, turn and jump and looks like an adorable crab.

The half-millimeter crabs can bend, twist, crawl, walk, turn, and even jump. The researchers also created millimeter-sized robots that look like inchworms, crickets, and beetles. Even though the research is still in its early stages, the researchers believe their technique will help them get closer to building micro-sized robots that can do valuable tasks in limited environments.

The crab, which is smaller than the size of a flea, is propelled by simple mechanics, hydraulics, and electricity. The body’s flexibility and stability provide strength. To build the robot, the researchers used a shape-memory alloy material, which, when heated, returns to its “remembered” shape. In this scenario, the researchers used a scanning laser beam to rapidly heat the robot over many target zones on its body. A thin coating of glass, when cooled, restores the original shape of the warped component of the construction.

As the robot shifts from one phase to the next — from deformed to recalled shape and back — locomotion occurs. The laser not only activates the robot from afar but also controls the robot’s walking path. Scanning from left to right, for instance, allows the robot to move from right to left.

The Global Microrobot market seems to reach US$ 134.86 Billion by 2032. Earlier, researchers at the University of Southern California have created a microbot that looks like a beetle called -robeetle. Similarly, engineers from the University of California have developed an insect-like robot that can function in complex environments.

Rogers and Huang created this crab-like robot using a technique termed the “pop-up assembly approach,” which they first described eight years ago and was inspired by a children’s pop-up book.

The team began by creating flat, planar precursors to the walking crab structures. The precursors were then connected to a rubber substrate that was slightly stretched. When the stretched substrate is loosened, the crab “pops up” into exactly prescribed three-dimensional shapes, which is known as controlled buckling.