This research project is to develop a millirobot system for rapid prototyping of complicated micromechatronic devices combining folded-sheet structures, commercial sensors, and actuators. Folded sheet structures will provide not only a method for rapid-prototyping, but also a flexible mechanical fabrication capability for 3-dimensional mechanisms in the 1 to 10 mm size range. Microassembly will provide the ability to construct 3-dimensional heterogenous microsystems by joining sensors, actuators, structures, and intelligence, which are separately fabricated, and ideally available off-the-shelf. This research will address: (1) Flexible fabrication methods using fixtures and millirobots to fold pre-cut sheets of material into 3D microstructures and bond in final configurations. (2) Microassembly techniques using millirobots capable of precisely attaching 100 micron blocks as well as 12 micron or thinner sheets (such as strain gauges) through control of interaction forces. (3) Algorithms which can compile an assembly plan, consisting of gripper and tool operations and fixture locations, which can then be used to rapidly prototype a complete microsystem, such as a 25 mm wing span micromechanical fly, including thorax structure, strain gauges, and piezoelectric actuators.
The goal is to allow a micro-system designer to go from design to first prototype in several hours, with additional prototypes being produced in minutes. In the first stage of the prototype fabrication, a millirobot containing grippers and tools customizes the workspace by bonding fixtures at appropriate locations. The passive fixtures are designed to dramatically reduce the complexity of the millirobot actuation, sensing, and control. In effect, fixtures maximize off-line planning, and minimize millirobot hardware. In the second stage of fabrication, the millirobot system can construct the prototype, and future copies of the prototype can be quickly made without additional workpiece setup time. A broader impact of this research will be a low-cost rapid prototyping millirobot system which can be readily copied to provide a micro-tool construction capability for any lab or school interested in developing micromechatronic systems. Undergraduate students in the SUPERB Program will be included on the research team along with graduate students.