DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.adi5155 ISSN: 2470-9476

Wireless flow-powered miniature robot capable of traversing tubular structures

Chong Hong, Yingdan Wu, Che Wang, Ziyu Ren, Chunxiang Wang, Zemin Liu, Wenqi Hu, Metin Sitti
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Control and Optimization
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Mechanical Engineering

Wireless millimeter-scale robots capable of navigating through fluid-flowing tubular structures hold substantial potential for inspection, maintenance, or repair use in nuclear, industrial, and medical applications. However, prevalent reliance on external powering constrains these robots’ operational range and applicable environments. Alternatives with onboard powering must trade off size, functionality, and operation duration. Here, we propose a wireless millimeter-scale wheeled robot capable of using environmental flows to power and actuate its long-distance locomotion through complex pipelines. The flow-powering module can convert flow energy into mechanical energy, achieving an impeller speed of up to 9595 revolutions per minute, accompanied by an output power density of 11.7 watts per cubic meter and an efficiency of 33.7%. A miniature gearbox module can further transmit the converted mechanical energy into the robot’s locomotion system, allowing the robot to move against water flow at an average rate of up to 1.05 meters per second. The robot’s motion status (moving against/with flow or pausing) can be switched using an external magnetic field or an onboard mechanical regulator, contingent on different proposed control designs. In addition, we designed kirigami-based soft wheels for adaptive locomotion. The robot can move against flows of various substances within pipes featuring complex geometries and diverse materials. Solely powered by flow, the robot can transport cylindrical payloads with a diameter of up to 55% of the pipe’s diameter and carry devices such as an endoscopic camera for pipeline inspection, a wireless temperature sensor for environmental temperature monitoring, and a leak-stopper shell for infrastructure maintenance.

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