Large individually-controlled degrees of freedom (DOF) in animal epidermises enable the animals to dynamically and dexterously interact with their natural environment for diverse functions. This capability still holds at small length scales: flatworms, starfish larvae, corals, comb jellyfishes, and millipedes utilize their numerous individually-controlled cilia, tube feet, or tiny legs for highly adaptable locomotion and multiple functions, such as nutrient transportation, predation, and bio-mixing. Despite their significant future potential applications and numerous recent advances, current miniature (centi-/millimeter) robots still do not have similar tiny cilia, feet, or legs in their epidermises to dynamically and dexterously interact with their operation environment, which severely limits their locomotion capabilities and functionalities.
The presentation will first walk through my previous projects of using physical intelligence, such as soft design, flow structure interaction, and metachronal coordination, to enhance miniature robots' locomotion capability and functions. Then, I will briefly discuss how I support these investigations on robotics by innovating on micro-fabrication and novel materials. At last, I will propose a new methodology to address the prementioned scientific challenge directly. Such an approach would immediately augment the functional interaction of various miniature robots with their surrounding environments, leading to disruptive locomotion and manipulation capabilities for various future applications.