Watch These Ant-Like Robots Pull a 3900-Pound Car


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Watch These Ant-Like Robots Pull a 3900-Pound Car

The robotics engineers were inspired by the strength and teamwork of ants.
Rachel Pick
New York, US

When it comes to building robots, the ant has long been a model for engineers. Its incredible strength relative to its size makes it a natural marvel, but its abilities are hard to replicate.

Now engineers at Stanford appear to have done just that, creating tiny robots called μTugs that are capable of pulling 2,000 times their own 16.6 gram weight using winches. By linking several μTugs together, they were able to pull a full-size sedan with a passenger inside (albeit very slowly).

One of the biggest challenges for the team was figuring out how robots could further imitate ants by working cooperatively to pull a heavy object. Some robot models have jerky movements that make it difficult to sync them to perform the same action. μTugs use winches and root themselves to the ground with a special adhesive based on gecko feet. (NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has been working on a similar adhesive.)

Geckos can climb up perfectly smooth, vertical surfaces because the structure of their footpads creates Van der Waals force, which works at the molecular level by creating a temporary matching polarity. In the case of the μTugs, this design enabled them to remain strong and stable while pulling the car, making a cooperative effort much easier.

The result was a combined 100 grams of μTugs pulling 1800 kilograms (about 3900 pounds) of weight. It happened very, very slowly, but it's still amazing to watch.