Tiny Particles Work Collectively To Generate Complex Behavior

MIT engineers have designed simple microparticles that can collectively generate complex behavior, such as generating an oscillating electrical current that could be used to power tiny robotic devices. This is an abstract artist’s concept, not an actual video of the microparticles.

Simple microparticles can beat rhythmically together, generating an oscillating electrical current that could be used to power micro-robotic devices.

Working together, the microparticles can generate a beating clock that oscillates at a very low frequency. The researchers demonstrated how these oscillations can be harnessed to power tiny robotic devices.

“In addition to being interesting from a physics point of view, this behavior can also be translated into an on-board oscillatory electrical signal, which can be very powerful in microrobotic autonomy. There are a lot of electrical components that require such an oscillatory input,” says Jingfan Yang. He is one of the lead authors of the new study and a recent MIT PhD recipient.

A simple chemical reaction is performed by the particles used to create the new oscillator, which allows the particles to interact with each other through the formation and bursting of tiny gas bubbles. Under the right conditions, these interactions form an oscillator that behaves similar to a ticking clock, beating at intervals of a few seconds.

MIT engineers are taking advantage of a phenomenon known as emergent behavior on the microscale. They have designed simple microparticles that can collectively generate complex behavior, much the same way that a colony of ants can work together to dig tunnels or collect food.

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