Once again news from the forefront of the artificial: Last saturday, on Georgia Tech’s campus at Robocup, the first nano-scaled soccer tournament took place! Microscopic robots — six times smaller than amoebas — competed on a soccer field barely the size of a grain of rice. Image on the side here is the ball!
From the press release:
RoboCup is an annual international competition designed to foster innovations and advances in artificial intelligence and intelligent robotics by using the game of soccer as a testing ground. NIST hopes that a competition between the smallest robots in RoboCup history will show the feasibility and accessibility of technologies for fabricating MicroElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS), tiny mechanical devices that are built onto semiconductor chips and are measured in micrometers (millionth of a meter).
The competition included three events. The first was a competition of speed which required the nanobots to sprint across the field from goal to goal in an attempt to get the best time. The second was a slalom drill where polymer posts took the role of “defenders” that the bots had to dodge. And third, a dribbling competition where the robots had to get as many balls into the goal as possible in 3 minutes. The balls were microdisks with the diamater of a human hair (see image above, circle with the tee!).
See the glass microchip below? Yeah, those are 16 nanosoccer playing fields! Each of them is only 2.5×2.5 milimeters across.
To really get a feel of the size of the robots themselves, here’s a cell-size comparison:
0.1 nm (nanometer) diameter of a hydrogen atom
0.8 nm Amino Acid
2 nm Diameter of a DNA Alpha helix
1 µm (micrometer)
(1 – 10 µm) the general sizes for Prokaryotes
1 µm Diameter of human nerve cell process
2 µm E.coli – a bacterium
3 µm Mitochondrion
5 µm length of chloroplast
6 µm (3 – 10 micrometers) the Nucleus
9 µm Human red blood cell
(10 – 30 µm) Most Eukaryotic animal cells
(10 – 100 µm) Most Eukaryotic plant cells <= NANOSOCCER!
90 µm small Amoeba
100 µm Human Egg
up to 160 µm Megakaryocyte
up to 500 vm giant bacterium Thiomargarita
up to 800 µm large Amoeba
1 mm (1 millimeter, 1/10th cm)
1 mm Diameter of the squid giant nerve cell
120 mm Diameter of an ostrich egg
Technically, the nanobots are a few micrometers in size, but their mass is only a few nanograms which justifies the nano title. I daresay this is the only kind of soccer I’d call cool. The robots operate under an optical microscope, controlled by remote electronics via monitor visual feedback. NIST has a video of a Swiss robot scoring a goal (AVI). Truly amazing to watch and ponder the scale of the thing.
July 10th, EDIT: The video has been put on YouTube. See below.
Links & References
- Story and Image credit: NIST
- Cell Size Comparison on WikiBooks
- The Nanogram Competition Whitepaper (PDF)