About this Research Topic
Robotics at small scales (from centimeter/millimeter-scale robots all the way down to nanorobots) presents peculiar challenges that cannot be simply resolved by miniaturizing current robotic designs. Implementing basic robotic features such as actuation, sensing, control, as well as power supply, are among these challenges. Innovative solutions have been proposed, which leverage novel (micro)fabrication techniques, biologically inspired designs, and especially the integration of smart materials in robotic systems. Complementing historical smart materials, such as piezo materials or shape memory alloys, new responsive soft/flexible materials are particularly appealing for novel developments in small-scale robotics. Among them, polymers and gels that respond to external stimuli with mechanical deformations are of special interest to be used as on-board sensors and actuators. These solutions enable the development of small-scale robots able to swim, crawl, walk, or fly, with potential applications ranging from biomedicine to environmental monitoring.
The emergence of these new solutions opens many questions and challenges, which still hinder the wide deployment of small-scale robots in their intended application fields. A real multidisciplinary effort is needed to move the field beyond frontiers and to achieve the full potential of small-scale robots. To this aim, the so-called “microrobotics” community is rich in scientists from many fields (roboticists, engineers, material scientists, physicists, chemists, and bioengineers), but they are still scattered among their respective disciplines. Multidisciplinary collaborations are increasing, leading to unprecedented solutions to the aforementioned challenges in the field. However, much more needs to be done to consolidate the community, develop commonly accepted terminology, test practices and standards (e.g. for application proof-of-concepts, to demonstrate the feasibility and potential of the soft (micro)robotic platforms), share tools and knowledge (e.g. in terms of materials model, simulation tools, and manufacturing practices), and elaborate a vision for the evolution of the field and its impact on science and society.
Here we provide a framework for presenting the latest results in soft robotics at small scales. Both experimental and theoretical contributions are welcome, and we strongly encourage inter- and multidisciplinary works and discussions, as well as presentation of recent advances in one sub-field that can benefit the whole community. Specific themes include:
• novel materials and material-based micro-actuators and sensors
• novel fabrication techniques (including 3D and 4D printing)
• remote actuation and powering (magnetic, optical, …)
• locomotion in dry and wet environment (including biological fluids)
• imaging/tracking, control, artificial intelligence, teleoperation, and autonomy
• proof of concept of applications (including biological)
• design methods and models for small-scale robots based on soft and active materials
We welcome the following types of manuscripts: Original Research, Brief Research Report, Methods, Data Report, Technology and Code, Mini Review, Perspective, Opinion.
Keywords: Microrobotics, Soft Robotics, Bioinspired Robotics, Smart Materials, Microfabrication
Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.