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Building Very Small Mobile Micro"Robots

04/19/2007 7:00 PM 32"123
Bruce Donald, SM '84, PhD '87, William and Sue Gross Professor of Computer Science; Professor of Biochemistry, Duke University;

Description: Philosophers and AI researchers may argue the point, but Bruce Donald believes his microscopic invention qualifies as a robot. Donald's machine is about as wide as a strand of human hair. He likens it to a car, because it's controllable: "You can steer it anywhere on a flat surface, and drive it wherever you want to go." Unlike previous attempts at such a microelectromechanical system, Donald's robot has no tether, but operates via electrical charges on a silicon grid. It's a real speed demon, proceeding in nano"sized hops (one billionth of a meter, 20 times per second), ultimately achieving two millimeters per second, or the equivalent on a more human scale of 80 kilometers per hour. To the tunes of a Strauss waltz, Donald demonstrates two robots dancing in straight and wavy lines around each other, and then coupling to form a single system. While the Department of Homeland Security has funded his research, in the hope of using microrobots to enhance the security of nuclear warheads, Donald envisions alternative applications. Since his robots can push and shove things in their path, and can also latch onto each other, they might prove quite useful assisting in techniques involving protein design, manipulation of cells and biomedical engineering. The next five to 10 years, Donald predicts, will see an even smaller generation of robots, which "will be doing useful things in the lab."

About the Speaker(s): Bruce Donald received his B.A. from Yale University, and Ph.D. from MIT. He then joined the faculty of the Cornell University Computer Science Department, where he held a joint appointment in Applied Mathematics. Donald co"founded the Cornell Robotics and Vision Laboratory. He received a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award in 1989. After a decade on the Cornell faculty, Donald joined the Computer Science Department at Dartmouth in 1997, and was named the Joan and Edward Foley Professor in 2003. He moved to Duke in 2006.

Donald has written four books and numerous scientific papers on topics ranging from robotics to physical geometric algorithms, graphics, MEMS, and computational biology. He was a visiting professor at Stanford University (1994"96). From 1995"97, Donald worked at Interval Research Corporation (in Palo Alto), where he was co"inventor of Embedded Constraint Graphics (ECG).

Donald was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2001, for his work on algorithms for high"throughput structural molecular biology. He was a Visiting Scientist at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab and Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (2000"2001).

Host(s): School of Engineering, Research Laboratory for Electronics

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