Monday Colloquium: Paul McEuen (Cornell University)


Monday, November 8, 2021, 4:30pm


Microscopic Robots?!
Can we build microscopic robots? Autonomous ambulatory creatures too small to be resolved by the naked eye? The brains are not the problem: a modern IC has tens of thousands of transistors in the area occupied by a paramecium. But two major components are missing: electronic actuators that can operate as the robot’s micro-appendages, and a power/communication system for getting energy/info in and out. In this talk, I will discuss work by an interdisciplinary team at Cornell to create tiny robots. We first created OWiCs, or Optical Wireless Integrated Circuits, that use light for comms and power. OWiCs are smartphones for the micro world, with potential applications in everything from implantable sensors to microscopic ID tags, or here, for the brains of a microscopic robot. For appendages, we developed a new class of electrochemical actuators called SEAs that readily flex on the micron scale. We then integrated SEAs with OWiCs to build our first prototype microscopic robots, which now hold a Guinness World Record for the Smallest Walking Robot. But what are they good for? To quote Benjamin Franklin: “What good is newborn baby?”