Cartoon Vehicle Masterfully Handles A Tricky Maze


  • The millirobot looked like an adorable cartoon vehicle as it expertly navigated a complex maze.
  • The millibots learned to autonomously walk, jump, and escape from potential obstacles in real-time.
  • In practice, the superpower makes these bots great scaffolds as drug delivery machines that may one day roam our bloodstream.

As it skillfully manoeuvred through a challenging maze, the millirobot resembled a cute cartoon vehicle as reported by Singularity Hub.

Utterly unassuming 

It’s a strange creature: the bottom resembles a collapsed fence; the top, is a colander-like basket.

The size of a penny, it seems fragile and utterly unassuming.

But at its core is a potential paradigm shift for building autonomous robots that can sense and respond to their local environment.

Unlike classic robots, which are assembled with multiple components, the millirobot is 3D printed with a milky-looking metamaterial that can flexibly change its properties with a few electrical zaps.

This allows the material to twist, contort, shrink, or expand.

Tiny scouts 

The millibots learned to autonomously walk, jump, and escape from potential obstacles in real-time.

They could even take a mini-beach hike in the lab, easily navigating through a rough, sandy terrain partially covered with greenery.

They may also act as cheap, tiny, but powerful scouts to explore new or hazardous environments.

The study “highlights a broader view of ‘robotic materials’ in which the boundary between materials and machines becomes indiscernible,” he wrote in a related commentary. 

“Additive manufacturing of piezoelectric metamaterials may lead to materializing fully integrated robots that might eventually walk straight out of a 3D printer.”


Metamaterials are weird. But thanks to their exotic properties, scientists have readily explored potential uses for these strange ducks.

In a way, they’re similar to camera lenses or mirrors, but with the superpower to rapidly change how they direct every light wave.

In theory, a carefully created structure from metamaterials could overhaul all types of glasses—from microscope lenses to those on our faces.

More recently, scientists began exploring other uses.

It’s as if your legs suddenly turn into rotating wheels.

This flexibility makes them an especially intriguing canvas for designing robots.

Stranger Things

The new millibots look like a hybrid between Wall-E and TARS, a ridged, folding, chopsticks-esque robot in Interstellar.

Normally, a robot needs several independent components: sensors to navigate the environment, microprocessors for the “brain,” actuators for movement, and a power supply to drive the whole system.

Altogether, the simple millibot essentially has multiple systems mixed into one glaring white goo: a nervous system capable of sensing and actuation, a “muscle” component, and a skeletal structure.

With a few challenges, the authors next showcased the bots’ prowess.

One robot expertly navigated around roadblocks in real-time as a human sequentially dropped down barriers based on ultrasound feedback.

The millibots also made great pack mules.

A Ways to Go

A single piece of piezoelectric material can be extremely flexible, with six degrees of freedom—the ability to extend linearly in three axes (like bending your arm forward, sideways, and back) and twist rotationally.

Thanks to the study’s additive manufacturing, it’s easy to design different robotic architectures guided by creative algorithms.

The team “artfully interweaved actuation and perception in a lightweight miniature composite 3D lattice that moves around and senses its surroundings,” said Rafsanjani.

The robots may come off as an incongruous conundrum: a flexible creature that’s made of a hard ceramic-like backbone with one metamaterial.

But so are we humans—we’re made of cells with vastly different shapes, sizes, and capabilities.

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Source: Singularity Hub


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