1.1 Background of the study
Despite their relative simplicity, modern day mobile robots capture the imagination by offering mobility in robust and controllable packages. Each of these robots is relatively large and works alone or requires a human operator. Science fiction novels have long imagined very small robots working by themselves or in groups to do the same tasks of a larger robot, or even accomplishing jobs much larger robots would find impossible. In The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson describes microscopic robots used for surveillance and inherent in everyday life. A great deal of progress has been made in the decades since Feynman’s speech, but microrobots still have a long way to go to reach the fantastic capabilities attributed to them in fictional works and Feynman’s imagination. Even the term ‘microrobot’ is not well defined.
The autonomous mobile microrobots in this dissertation are defined as robots with dimensions on the order of millimeters and feature sizes on the order of microns. They carry power and control on-board for autonomy and their mobility allows them to move through a specified (and preferably arbitrary) environment. At this size, even mobility proves difficult. Ants and other insects can easily crawl over obstacles, but it is much more difficult for robots to do so, even at larger size scales. To overcome the limitation of leg length, the microrobots of this dissertation are designed to jump over obstacles instead.