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UMD NanoCenter Creates Tiny Inchworm Motor with Flexible Arms

January 11, 2013
Contacts: 

Martha Jordan Heil 301-209-3088

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland NanoCenter engineers Ivan Penskiy and Sarah Bergbreiter have developed a new micromechanical motor, which has flexible arms used to alternately grab and pull a tiny silicon beam thousands of times per second, moving only a couple micrometers at a time. This action simulates a movement similar to a person grabbing and pulling a rope hand over hand. These motors could someday be used to power a tiny insect-sized robot or provide autofocus and zoom in a smartphone camera.

UMicromechanical Motornlike other similar efforts, the inchworm motor is simple to manufacture and provides significantly greater force. The motor is very efficient due to its use of electrostatic actuation, in which two tiny silicon plates are pulled toward each other when a voltage is applied. Penskiy and Bergbreiter optimized the layout of these plates along with the flexible arms that they drive to improve efficiency in addition to force output. The researchers made the device in the University of Maryland’s Fab Lab, where only a single etch was required to pattern these plates and flexible arms on a silicon chip.

Next, Penskiy and Bergbreiter will work on integrating this motor with mechanical structures like legs along with tiny power supplies for integrated microrobots.