Gnat Robots (And How They Will Change Robotics)

Unknown author (1987-06)

Working Paper

A new concept in mobile robots is proposed, namely that of a gnat-sized autonomous robot with on-board sensors, brains, actuators and power supplies, all fabricated on a single piece of silicon. Recent breakthroughs in computer architectures for intelligent robots, sensor integration algorithms and micromachining techniques for building on-chip micromotors, combined with the ever decreasing size of integrated logic, sensors and power circuitry have led to the possibility of a new generation of mobile robots which will vastly change the way we think about robotics. Forget about today's first generation robots: costly, bulky machines with parts acquired from many different vendors. What will appear will be cheap, mass produced, slimmed down, integrated robots that need no maintenance, no spare parts, and no special care. The cost advantages of these robots will create new worlds of applications. Gnat robots will offer a new approach in using automation technology. We will begin to think in terms of massive parallelism: using millions of simple, cheap, gnat robots in place of one large complicated robot. Furthermore, disposable robots will even become realistic. This paper outlines how to build gnat robots. It discusses the technology thrusts that will be required for developing such machines and sets forth some strategies for design. A close look is taken at the tradeoffs involved in choosing components of the system: locomotion options, power sources, types of sensors and architectures for intelligence.