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Microrobotics team finishes second in international competition

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Aaron T. Ohta, (808) 956-8196
Assistant Professor, Electrical Engineering
Posted: May 18, 2011

The UH microrobot (circular object in top center) assembled these tiny glass beads into a mini “UH.”
The UH microrobot (circular object in top center) assembled these tiny glass beads into a mini “UH.”
The University of Hawai`i at Mānoa’s inaugural microrobotics team finished second at the 2011 Microrobotics Challenge. This competition, organized by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), is an annual event designed to promote innovation to overcome the challenges facing microrobots. This year’s event was held in Shanghai, China, and attracted teams from the United States, France, Italy, and Canada.
The UH Mānoa Microrobotics team consists of electrical engineering graduate students Wenqi Hu and Kelly Ishii, who traveled to China for the competition. They are advised by Assistant Professor Aaron Ohta. Additional team members include Michelle Zhang and Assistant Professor David Garmire.
The microrobots in this competition are very tiny: they must be less than 0.6 mm in their largest dimension. The tiny robots competed in miniature arenas under a microscope. The competition consisted of two events: a mobility challenge, where the robots were timed as they moved around a figure-8 track, and a micro-assembly challenge, where the robots assembled tiny triangles in a designated area. The UH Mānoa team finished second in the mobility challenge and was the only team besides the winning team that was able to assemble more than a single triangle in the micro-assembly challenge. These events are very challenging for such tiny robots, so UH Mānoa’s showing was very impressive for a first-year team.

UH Mānoa’s microrobot consists of a very tiny air bubble inside of a microchamber. Light from a computer projector is used to heat the surface of the microchamber, which generates a force that moves around the microrobot. The microrobot can also move around objects that are less than a millimeter in size. This can be useful for assembling tiny electronic components, or even building structures made up of living cells.