We already know about how ants work together to lift objects that are many times their own weight. With that concept in mind, researchers at Stanford's Biomimetics and Dextrous Manipulation Laboratory applied the that practice to robotics, creating six microbots that worked in tandem to pull a car that weighs 3,900 pounds.
These amazing robots, called microTug - or uTug - robots, are each about the size of a cockroach and weigh in at around 0.2 pounds. Though they're lacking in size, they more than make up for it with teamwork.
"By considering the dynamics of the team, not just the individual, we are able to build a team of our 'microTug' robots that, like ants, are super-strong individually, but then also work together as a team," said David Christensen, a graduate student from the BDML lab.
He added that the demonstration, which used his car along with him inside of it, is the functional equivalent of six people trying to move the Eiffel Tower and three Statues of Liberty.
However this feat can't be attributed to teamwork alone, it's also due to taking advantage of the science of biomimicry - replicating attributes found in the animal kingdom. In this case, the bots were designed to imitate gecko lizards by incorporating spiked, sticky pads that the uTug robots use to grip a surface.
This approach had been used once before to create smaller robots capable of pulling objects 2,000 times their weight. Additionally, the results of the demonstration is similar to that of the Autonomous Multi-Robot System for Vehicle Extraction and Transportation or AVERT, a group of larger robots that can also pull a 2-ton car.
Christensen, along with graduate student Srinivasen Suresh, researcher Katie Hahm and professor of mechanical engineering Mark Cutosky published a paper about their car-towing research one month ago on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' website, under the title: "Let's All Pull Together: Principles for Sharing Large Loads in Microrobot Teams."
This paper will be presented at the International Conference on Robotoics and Automation in Stockholm this May.
Watch a video of these robots in action below: