DARPA Launches Program to Develop Tiny Robots for Natural Disasters

The SHort-Range Independent Microrobotic Platforms program, or SHRIMP, aims to develop and demonstrate multi-functional micro-to-milli robotic platforms for use in natural and critical disaster scenarios.

Positing natural disasters such earthquakes that inflict widespread damage to buildings, critical utilities and infrastructure, and threatens human safety, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to develop tiny robots that can help rescuers navigate the rubble, enter highly unstable areas, or detect additional hazards among the wreckage. Partnering rescue personnel with robots to evaluate high-risk scenarios and environments can help increase the likelihood of successful search and recovery efforts or other critical tasks while minimizing the threat to human teams, according to the agency.

"Whether in a natural disaster scenario, a search and rescue mission, a hazardous environment, or other critical relief situation, robots have the potential to provide much-needed aid and support," said Dr. Ronald Polcawich, a DARPA program manager in the Microsystems Technology Office. "However, there are a number of environments that are inaccessible for larger robotic platforms. Smaller robotics systems could provide significant aid, but shrinking down these platforms requires significant advancement of the underlying technology."

To that end, DARPA announced July 17 it is launching a new program called SHort-Range Independent Microrobotic Platforms, or SHRIMP. The goal of SHRIMP is to develop and demonstrate multi-functional micro-to-milli robotic platforms for use in natural and critical disaster scenarios. To achieve this, SHRIMP will explore fundamental research in actuator materials and mechanisms as well as power storage components, both of which are necessary to create the strength, dexterity, and independence of functional microrobotics platforms.

"The strength-to-weight ratio of an actuator influences both the load-bearing capability and endurance of a microrobotic platform, while the maximum work density characterizes the capability of an actuator mechanism to perform high-intensity tasks or operate over a desired duration," said Polcawich. "Making significant advances to actuator mechanisms and materials will greatly impact our ability to develop micro-to-milli robotic platforms capable of performing complex tasks in the field."

In addition to advancing the state of the art for actuator technology, SHRIMP seeks to develop highly efficient power storage devices and power conversion circuitry.

For a full program description, visit the Broad Agency Announcement published here.

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