This project supports student travel to the NIST Micro-Robotics Challenge which involves advances in the design and fabrication of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) enabling the development of mobile micro-robots that can autonomously navigate and manipulate in controlled environments. It is expected that this technology will be critical in applications as varied as intelligent sensor networks, in vivo medical diagnosis and treatment, and adaptive microelectronics. Students explore micro-robot locomotion, power storage, embedded intelligence, and motion measurement. The NIST performance-based competitions for mobile micro-robots: 1) motivates researchers to accelerate micro-robot development, 2) reveals the most pressing technical challenges, and 3) evaluates the most successful methods for locomotion and manipulation at the micro-scale (e.g., actuation techniques for crawling).
In the competition research teams showcase working demonstrations that support the challenge themes of micro-scale actuation, manipulation and locomotion. This funding increases the competitiveness of US teams, as this event has traditionally been dominated by teams from Europe. The multi-day competitions are held during the IEEE ICRA conference providing an excellent opportunity to engage a broad technical audience. These are also be open to the general public to raise awareness of the state-of-the-art. The competitions provide an opportunity for students and leaders to learn how micro-robotics can play an important role in society.
Background The IEEE (Institute for Electronics and Electrical Engineers) is the leading professional society for advancing robotics, and one of the premiere conferences in this technical area is the International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) which were held in Shanghai, China in May 2011, and in St. Paul, MN., USA in May 2012. To this end, the Micro-Robot Challenges sponsored by the US National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) provides a forum for teams from all over the world to demonstrate their state-of-the-art capabilities in micro-actuation and motion control. The size of the robots is smaller than half a millimeter, and they operate 3mm x 2mm arenas. It is expected that this technology will be critical in applications as varied as intelligent sensor networks, in vivo medical diagnosis and treatment, and adaptive microelectronics. Accomplishments In this project, we offered travel support for students from US academic institutions to allow them to participate in this event. The 2011 qualifying participants included the following teams from North America and Europe 1) University of Waterloo, Canada, NanoRobotics Group 2) Stevens Institute of Technology, USA, Multiscale Robotics and Automation Lab 3) University of Texas at Arlington, USA, Next Gen Systems Group 4) Univ. of Maryland, USA, Microrobotics Group 5) Femto-ST-CNRS, France 6) Italian Institute of Technology Microrobotics Team 7) University of Hawaii Microrobotics Team Travel for a total of 10 students was supported in 2011. Awards up to $2,000 were made to 3 students from UT Arlington, 2 students from Univ. of Hawaii, 3 students from Stevens Institute of Technology, and 2 students from Univ. of Maryland. Approximately $17,000 in travel costs were incurred, including airfare, lodging and meals for students during their travel to China. With the remaining project funds, and the approval of NSF, the selection committee also supported travel for 8 students at the 2012 ICRA challenge, held in St. Paul, MN, in May 2012. For this event, travel awards up to $500 were awarded. The 2012 Challenge participants included the following teams: 1) University of Waterloo, Canada, NanoRobotics Group 2) Stevens Institute of Technology, USA, Multiscale Robotics and Automation Lab 3) University of Texas at Arlington, USA, Next Gen Systems Group 4) Femto-ST-CNRS, France 5) University of Hawaii Microrobotics Team 6) Carnegie Mellon University, USA, NanoRobotics Lab 7) US Naval Academy, USNA 8) Czech Technical University, Prague, AA4CC Group 2 students each (from CMU, UTA, SIT, and UH received travel funding up to $500 to partially support travel to ICRA 2012. In both years, team travelled with their own equipment to the challenges, set it up and competed over the period of 3 days. Teams also brought posters and presentations for the summative poster session at the end of the competition. International travel with functional equipment proved most challenging, but all teams handled logistics, funding and other travel arrangements very well. For the 2011 competition, only 1 US team placed 2nd at the Mobility Challenge (Univ. of Hawaii). At the 2012 competition, however, US teams fared much better, with both CMU and UH placing in 1st and 2nd place at the two events. Conclusion: The Microrobotics Challenge has been established as the flagship annual event aimed at promoting research and education in microrobotics. Microrobotics education combines multiple engineering disciplines, such as MEMS, Microrobotics and Control at small scales, and numerous theoretical, as well as practical challenges remain to be addressed. This project made it possible for 13 US-based students to travel and compete at the prestigious international competition in 2011 and 2012. US teams have increased their competitiveness as a result of this grant, by winning events in 2012 (for the first time since the competition started in 2007). In addition to outreach and educational opportunities for students, this event has supported and will continue to support research in microrobotics, as evidenced by numerous papers, theses, and senior design project reports completed by the participating faculty and students from 5 US institutions. In 2013 NIST handed over organizational responsibility for the competition to the IEEE RAS, and, as a result, in future years we hope to continue and expand this event.