UW_NRG Wins Mobile Microrobotics Challenge

Dushanth Seevaratnam - 2B Nanotechnology
Posted on: May 18, 2011

The University of Waterloo Nanorobotics Group (UW_NRG) is a student run team that focuses on the fabrication of microscale robots. These micro-robots are then entered into the international competition known as the Mobile Microrobotics Challenge. This year UW_NRG flew to Shanghai, China in order to compete in the competition as the only undergraduate and only Canadian team. The grueling competition  consisted of two unique challenges. First the mobility challenge, which consisted of the robot performing a figure eight pattern on a 2mm by 3.5mm field. The second challenge, microassembly, required the participants to place microscale triangles in a narrow channel as tightly as possible.
The robot entered in this year’s competition, rightfully named EMMA (Electro-Magnetic Microrobotic Actuation), is actually 500µm wide and 100µm tall. Just like the name implies, the robot is manipulated through the application of fundamental magnetic principles. By using a precise actuator and imaging system, the robot is controlled by the movement of external magnets. This allows very precise movements. The precision of these movements is what gave UW_NRG the edge at the competition. ‘We knew that focusing on the fundamentals was a key to success. We’ve proven that Waterloo undergraduates can play and win against top academics around the world,” said Dusan Sarenac, Fabrication Lead for UW_NRG.
With its impressive control scheme and precise movements EMMA dominated the microassembly challenge. The UW_NRG robot was the only miniature robot that was capable of successfully manipulating the microscale triangles into a tightly packed formation. “Our refined controls system really gave us an edge – navigating video games with [the keyboard keys] WASD is one of my core skills in life,” said Garry Ng, UW_NRG Controls Lead.
With EMMA by their side, UW_NRG captured the international microrobotics crown with a world championship victory. But what is most impressive about this group is that they entered their first competition just over a year ago. This is a very recently established student team. Even though they were considered to be the new in the field then, the team still managed to pull off an impressive third-place finish. With the help of innovation and creativity the team managed to pull off a victory this week that other teams can only dream of. Furthermore, this victory also shows the importance of Canada, and our local research, in the microrobotics world.
Despite facing graduate students and professors from some of the leading international technology universities from around world, UW_NRG showed the world what it takes to become crowned number one. However, every champion knows that the hardest thing about winning a competition is defending the title. But it appears that UW_NRG already has made preparations to meet this challenge as hinted by Michael Leung, a Team EMMA member: “We’re ecstatic with our performance this year – hopefully next year we see some lasers in the new design we have cooking.”
Whether or not the next robot uses lasers or even flies, one thing is for sure. UW_NRG has brought great pride to the University of Waterloo and even the nation of Canada. It will be amazing to see what this group does next!


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