Fri. Dec 1st, 2023
    The Evolution of Miniature Shape-Changing Robots

    Engineers at the University of Colorado Boulder have made significant advancements in the field of robotics with the development of mCLARI, a small and modular robot inspired by the animal world. This groundbreaking creation measures just 2 centimeters in length and can change its shape to maneuver through narrow gaps in various directions. With a weight of less than a gram, mCLARI can surprisingly support over three times its body weight as an additional payload.

    Led by Kaushik Jayaram, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and doctoral student Heiko Kabutz, the team’s research earned the prestigious Best Paper Award on Safety, Security, and Rescue Robotics at the 2023 International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems. This recognition highlights the significance of their work in the robotics community.

    Improving upon their previous miniature shape-morphing robot, CLARI, the team has successfully made mCLARI even smaller and faster. It possesses the ability to navigate effectively in cluttered environments by morphing its shape and moving in various directions, rather than relying on turning. This unique feature opens up possibilities for assisting first responders in disaster situations. By merging the adaptability of soft robots with the agility of rigid robots, Jayaram’s group is inching closer to creating insect-scale robots capable of seamless movement in natural terrains.

    One of the key achievements of mCLARI is its miniaturization. In comparison to its predecessor, this version is 60% shorter and 38% lighter, while still retaining 80% of its actuation power. It boasts impressive speed as well, reaching up to 60 millimeters per second, three times its body length in a second. Similar to CLARI, mCLARI can change shape and adopt multiple gaits, making it versatile and adaptable.

    The success of miniaturization in mCLARI is attributed to the origami-based design and laminate fabrication technique previously used for HAMR-Jr, another robot developed by Jayaram and his colleagues. This innovative approach allows for scaling down or up the design without compromising mechanical dexterity. As a result, potential real-world applications for these robots, such as inspecting and maintaining jet engines, become more attainable.

    The lead author of the study, Heiko Kabutz, possesses exceptional skills in building and folding the tiny leg modules of the robot. His lifelong fascination with robots and involvement in robotic competitions during high school led him to Jayaram’s lab, where his passion for constructing bioinspired robots at the insect scale flourished.

    The possibilities offered by mCLARI and similar robots are vast. With their deformable nature, slightly larger sizes are feasible, enabling the incorporation of additional sensors, increased carrying capacity, and enhanced stability. These robots can uniquely navigate through specific gaps and access points with ease, highlighting their potential in specialized industries like aerospace.

    In conclusion, the continuous efforts and breakthroughs made by the engineers at the University of Colorado Boulder emphasize the evolution of miniature shape-changing robots. By drawing inspiration from nature and utilizing novel design techniques, they pave the way for the development of highly adaptable and versatile robots that can revolutionize various industries.


    1. How small is mCLARI?

    mCLARI measures just 2 centimeters in length, making it incredibly small and compact.

    2. What is the weight-bearing capacity of mCLARI?

    Despite its size, mCLARI can support over three times its body weight as an additional payload, showcasing its strength.

    3. How fast can mCLARI move?

    mCLARI reaches running speeds of up to 60 millimeters per second, equivalent to three times its body length in one second.

    4. What is the significance of mCLARI’s shape-changing ability?

    mCLARI’s ability to change its shape allows it to maneuver through narrow gaps in multiple directions, making it highly efficient in cluttered environments.

    5. Can mCLARI be used in disaster response scenarios?

    Yes, mCLARI’s unique capabilities make it a potential asset for aiding first responders in navigating challenging terrains after major disasters.

    6. How does miniaturization in mCLARI contribute to its development?

    The miniaturization of mCLARI enables it to resemble insect-scale robots while retaining mechanical dexterity and the potential for real-world applications.