Microrobot to open new avenues for manufacturing

A miniaturised milliDelta robot developed at Harvard University promises applications in manufacturing and medicine thanks to the innovative way in which it has been made.


The original Delta robots are deployed in many industrial processes, including pick-and-place assemblies, machining, welding, and food packaging, because of their high precision and speed, according to The Harvard Gazette.

Reymond Clavel developed the first version of the Delta Robot for a chocolate factory to quickly place chocolate pralines in their packages in 1985.

Clavel’s Delta Robot was one of the world’s first high-speed parallel robots thanks to its particularly lightweight structure.

In general, Delta robots use three individually controlled and lightweight arms that guide a platform to move fast and accurately in three directions. These characteristics made the Delta Robot a perfect tool for the industrial packaging industry.

The platform is either used as a stage, similar to the ones used in flight simulators, or coupled to a manipulating device that can, for example, grasp, move, and release objects in prescribed patterns.

Over time, roboticists have designed smaller and smaller Delta robots for tasks in limited workspaces, yet shrinking them further to the millimeter scale with conventional manufacturing techniques and components has proven fruitless.

New design overcomes miniaturisation challenge

As reported in Science Robotics, a new design – the milliDelta robot – has been developed by Robert Wood’s team at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and reportedly overcomes this miniaturisation challenge.

By integrating their microfabrication technique with high-performance composite materials that can incorporate flexural joints and bending actuators, the milliDelta can operate with high speed, force, and micrometer precision, which together make it compatible with a range of micromanipulation tasks in manufacturing and medicine, as reported by The Harvard Gazette.

In 2011, inspired by pop-up books and origami, Wood’s team developed a micro-fabrication approach that enabled the assembly of robots from flat sheets of composite materials.

Pop-up MEMS (short for microelectromechanical systems) manufacturing has been used since then to build dynamic centimeter-scale machines that can simply walk away, or, as in the case of the RoboBee, fly.

In their new study, the researchers applied their approach to develop a Delta robot measuring a mere 15-by-15-by-20mm.