Waterloo Undergrads Put Canada on the Map For Microrobotics

Keith Peiris - 3B Nanotechnology
Posted on: June 2, 2010

The University of Waterloo Nanorobotics Group (UW_NRG) won third place overall at the fourth-annual NIST Mobile Microrobotics Challenge held by the National Institute for Standards and Technology. Out of eleven registered teams this year, the Waterloo team was both the only Canadian and the only purely undergraduate entrant to participate. The completely self-directed team only fell short to the entries from Carnegie Mellon University and ETH Zurich.

The competition consisted of creating a robot of under 600 micrometers in all dimensions and completing three independent events as follows. The two-millimeter dash was a timed sprint across a playing field on a silicon wafer. The microassembly challenge consisted of moving micron-scaled pegs from points on the field into holes to exhibit applications of microrobots. Finally, the freestyle competition allowed the teams to demonstrate the unique capabilities of each device.

UW_NRG’s entry into the challenge was aptly named EMMA (ElectroMagnetic Microrobotic Actuation) and truly demonstrated the University of Waterloo’s advanced developments in electromagnetic manipulation at the microscale. The robot’s control system was composed of a complex image recognition system that controlled the magnetic field acting on the robot with sub-micron accuracy.

“EMMA truly demonstrates that even undergraduate students with limited funding can compete at the global scale in micro and nanotechnology engineering. The only thing we couldn’t do out here was buy beer after finishing” joked Derek Bennewies, Business Development Officer for UW_NRG.

The team eagerly awaits next year’s challenge to bring the prize to Canada.

About UW_NRG

UW_NRG came to life nearly three years ago from a napkin design and a dream. The core team consisted of Edgar Cao, Dule Sarenac, Garry Ng, Max Palumbo, Derek Bennewies, Michael Kwan, Ivan Law, and Keith Peiris from the University of Waterloo. With the help of Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), Zaber Technologies, Sun Microsystems, the Imaging Source, ANSYS, and various university student endowments, the group is completely sustainable. The team would like to thank Dr. Mustafa Yavuz, Dr. Mir Behrad Khamesee, Dr. Pearl Sullivan, and Dr. Caglar Elbuken from the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering at the University of Waterloo for their continuing support.  Finally, a special thanks to The University of Western Ontario NanoFab and the University of Manitoba NanoFab for accommodating all of the group’s needs.

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