Skip to Main Content
We present an untethered, electrostatic, MEMS micro-robot, with dimensions of 60 μm by 250 μm by 10 μm. The device consists of a curved, cantilevered steering arm, mounted on an untethered scratch drive actuator (USDA). These two components are fabricated monolithically from the same sheet of conductive polysilicon, and receive a common power and control signal through a capacitive coupling with an underlying electrical grid. All locations on the grid receive the same power and control signal, so that the devices can be operated without knowledge of their position on the substrate. Individual control of the component actuators provides two distinct motion gaits (forward motion and turning), which together allow full coverage of a planar workspace. These MEMS micro-robots demonstrate turning error of less than 3.7°/mm during forward motion, turn with radii as small as 176 μm, and achieve speeds of over 200 μm/sec with an average step size as small as 12 nm. They have been shown to operate open-loop for distances exceeding 35 cm without failure, and can be controlled through teleoperation to navigate complex paths. The devices were fabricated through a multiuser surface micromachining process, and were postprocessed to add a patterned layer of tensile chromium, which curls the steering arms upward. After sacrificial release, the devices were transferred with a vacuum microprobe to the electrical grid for testing. This grid consists of a silicon substrate coated with 13-μm microfabricated electrodes, arranged in an interdigitated fashion with 2-μm spaces. The electrodes are insulated by a layer of electron-beam-evaporated zirconium dioxide, so that devices placed on top of the electrodes will experience an electrostatic force in response to an applied voltage. Control waveforms are broadcast to the device through the capacitive power coupling, and are decoded by the electromechanical response of the device body. Hysteresis in the system allows on-board storage of n=2 bits of state information in response to these electrical signals. The presence of on-board state information within the device itself allows each of the two device subsystems (USDA and steering arm) to be individually addressed and controlled- . We describe this communication and control strategy and show necessary and sufficient conditions for voltage-selective actuation of all 2n system states, both for our devices (n=2), and for the more general case (where n is larger.).