Mycronic developing swimming milli-robots in research project

Collaborating with European partners to boost the use of robotics in agriculture

Text: Mycronic

Photo: SOMIRO project

The EU-funded research project SOMIRO began at the turn of the year with the aim of demonstrating the world’s first energy-autonomous swimming milli-robot. Mycronic is one of eight participants working to develop technology that will help monitor processes in precision agriculture and reduce the environmental impact of farming.

A flatworm-sized milli-robot housing solar cells, wireless sensors and a motor, capable of swimming, communicating and even collaborating with other milli-robots – that’s the desired result of the SOMIRO project. Since January 2021, a team of eight European partners are working together to boost the use of robotics in the agri-food sector by developing a soft, swimming milli-robot. The milli-robot is expected to contribute to the reduction of the environmental impact of agriculture in terms of carbon footprint, eutrophication and excessive use of pesticides and feed.

In the process of developing the fundamental mechanical and electronic design

Despite the pandemic, the research team has managed to collaborate through digital meetings and make scientific advancements. At present, they are busy working on the fundamental mechanical and electronic design of the milli-robot. The robot will be developed in two steps. The first version should mainly be able to swim and measure the presence and concentration of chemical compounds relevant for precision agriculture. The second version of the robot should possess these skills, but also be able to harvest energy from natural sunlight and communicate with an external information receiver.

It feels amazing to be able to utilize Mycronic’s expertise in electronics production

Power limitation and size key challenges to overcome

Until today, no energy autonomous milli-robot capable of performing hours of continuous operation has been developed. The major reason is power limitation: locomotion, sensors, and communication require much power, and a small robot has limited space for energy harvesting and storage. The solution is developing a robot that doesn’t rely on any dedicated energy infrastructure, but instead powers itself from natural sunlight.

“Our milli-robot will be a marvel of power efficiency and area optimization in order to fit power electronics, communication, sensors, locomotion and photovoltaics in this miniature soft and stretchable package”, says Gustaf Mårtensson at Mycronic, Expert Complex Fluids and a member of the project team.

The goal is that the SOMIRO milli-robot should reach sizes down to one square centimeter and be no more than 200 cubic millimeters in volume.

”It feels amazing to be able to utilize Mycronic’s expertise in electronics production and together with the other project partners focus it on applications of the future that will help us reach the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals”, says Gustaf.

Swiss team currently testing the first swimming design

The team in Switzerland are currently designing the undulating wings that will propel the millirobot. They have chosen a first design for the swimming device and they are in the process of testing it. Next question to solve is how to implement the solar cells in the milli-robot. In parallel, team members in Spain are working on the electronics of the device, while the team at Mycronic and Uppsala University are busy planning how to assemble the individual parts of the robot using our existing product offering.

Partners in the SOMIRO project

  • Uppsala University (Sweden)
  • École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Switzerland)
  • Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems (Germany)
  • Universität Linz (Austria), Fundación IMDEA Networks (Spain)
  • Mycronic AB (Sweden)
  • Battioli Paola Società Agricola S.S. (Italy)
  • The Circle Società Agricola a Responsabilita Limitata (Italy)
  • Warrant Hub SPA (Italy)

Advancing monitoring in precision agriculture

Learn more about how the swimming, flatworm-inspired milli-robots can improve water quality monitoring and reduce the environmental impact of farming.

Text: Mycronic

Photo: SOMIRO project

Published: 17 September 2021

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