Walking Silicon: Actuators and Legs for Small-Scale Terrestrial Robots


This dissertation presents work on components and actuators for silicon-based walking centimeter-scale robots. The focus on this work was on the actuators used to drive these robots and the linkages that make the basic structure of the robot leg.

Pin-joints are used as the basic unit of the leg linkages. The pin-joints were tested in terms of robustness and demonstrated high maximum tensile loads of over 5mN and compressive loads in excess of 100mN.

Electrostatic inchworm motors were the actuator of choice for these robots. These motors demonstrated over 1mN of output force and shuttle speeds up to 0.4m/s. Newer high force motors have demonstrated 5mN output force at 100V, the highest from an electrostaticinchworm motor to date.

These components were combined for a single-legged walker which demonstrated walking under power and support from external wires. After the single legged walker a hexapod robot using multichip assembly was designed, fabricated, assembled, and tested. The robot used three separate chips to route signals from planar legs to a central hub chip that is tethered to an external control circuit by 9 wires. The robot demonstrated taking steps.

This work also presents a future vision for robots based on this same silicon technology. Using these components a new generation of walking robots can be developed, pushing thepath forward toward autonomous operation.

Publication date: 
August 31, 2018
Publication type: 
Ph.D. Dissertation
Contreras, D. S. (2018). Walking Silicon: Actuators and Legs for Small-Scale Terrestrial Robots. United States: University of California, Berkeley.

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