Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania have unveiled a cheap method for making disposable robots. Their functionality practically does not differ from full-fledged analogs.

The researchers explained that all engineers who create microscopic moving robots face two problems. They cannot make parts so that they do not break when bent, or they cannot control actuators using electrical signals.

To overcome these challenges, scientists have introduced a new technology: Surface Electrochemical Actuators (SEA). Each of them is made of a thin layer of platinum, 7 nm thick. On one side, it is covered with a titanium layer 2 nm thick. The entire drive is only a dozen atoms thick, making it flexible enough to deform without breaking.

So scientists came up with a million variants of robots. They can use different versions of the same technology. Researchers are now building several hundred devices to test massively in different environments – including water.

Such micro-robots are very inexpensive to manufacture and, despite their disability, are not inferior in functionality to real devices. With solar panels and SEA as drives, robots can be powered by laser light or even regular sunlight and run indefinitely. Moreover, they can react to a light signal in 10 ms – the limit imposed by the liquid’s viscous resistance.

Now robots move at a speed of about 1 micron/s. However, peak velocities can be as high as 30 μm/s. Scientists plan to test the devices in different environments and, in the future, design full-fledged models in the same way.