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This Tiny Robot Walks, Crawls, Jumps And Swims. But It Is Not Alive.

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Researchers in Germany have developed a robot that is about a seventh of an inch long and looks at first like no more than a tiny strip of something rubbery. Then it starts moving.

The robot walks, jumps, crawls, rolls and swims. It even climbs out of the pool, moving from a watery environment into a dry one.

The robot prototype is small enough to move around in a stomach or urinary system, said Metin Sitti, head of the physical intelligence department at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, Germany, who led the research team.

The robot hasn’t been tested in humans yet, but the goal is to improve it for medical use — for instance, delivering drugs to a target within the body.




What is most unusual about the research, Dr. Sitti said, is that such a “minimalist robot” can achieve “all different type of motion possibilities to navigate in complex environments.

Leif Ristroph, a mathematician at New York University’s Courant Institute who developed a small flying robot that mimics the motion of jellyfish, wrote in an email: “The array of behaviours and capabilities is certainly impressive and sets this robot apart from most others.”

These critters are very cute!” he said. “Love how the authors put the little guy through mini-obstacle courses.

My other thought is that the pilot, who we don’t see, is also quite impressive,” added Dr. Ristroph, who was not involved in the research.

Clearly whoever is controlling the magnetic fields has gained some hard-earned intuition and fine skills based on a lot of experience and trial-and-error.

The research was reported Wednesday in the journal Nature. Below are excerpts from a telephone conversation with Dr. Sitti. They have been edited for length and clarity.

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