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Microbots Made of Bubbles Are Controlled By Lasers

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the fantastic-voyage dept.

Robotics 51

An anonymous reader writes "Researchers at the University of Hawaii have turned bubbles of gas into non-mechanical 'microbots' that they propel and steer with a laser. The laser heats up specific areas of the fluid that the bubble are in, and temperature gradients push the fluid towards the hot area, moving the bubble along. By using an array of lasers, the researchers can control the speed and direction of multiple bubble bots independently; this capability is not possible with other types of microbots, such as those controlled by a magnetic field, which affects all robots simultaneously. The University of Hawaii researchers hope their non-mechanical microbots can be used to assemble and manipulate microscopic structures, including live cells. In one experiment, they used the bubble bots to position 100-m-diameter glass beads to form the letters 'UH.'"

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51 comments

Bubbles of Gas (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40081433)

The problem with bubbles is their inability to carry heavy objects. At the same time, bubbles can and often do carry Hepatitis B. So if walking along the road and you see an incoming array of bubbles of gas launched at your general direction, step aside. You might catch STD and by the time you find out, the lady who launched that gas cloud is far gone.

There is a reason why Mark Zuckerberg went with an Indian wife.

So basically... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40081479)

Sharks will have their own microbot armies.

Sharks (1)

stevegee58 (1179505) | about 2 years ago | (#40081485)

Sharks with lasers?

Re:Sharks (1)

m2shariy (1194621) | about 2 years ago | (#40081501)

Herding schools of bubble-bots

Re:Sharks (3, Insightful)

amicusNYCL (1538833) | about 2 years ago | (#40081677)

I'm wondering where the point is when a bubble all of a sudden becomes a robot.

Re:Sharks (1)

Larryish (1215510) | about 2 years ago | (#40081913)

Uh... I think that the qualification for "robot" is "autonomy".

Only morons think a strictly remote controlled device is a "robot".

Battlebots were fancy R.C. cars.

Re:Sharks (1)

derGoldstein (1494129) | about 2 years ago | (#40082063)

There's some leeway there. For example, industrial robots [wikipedia.org]. Many of them just repeat sequences, and have only very basic branching conditions, if any. Then there's the TALON [wikipedia.org] robots, which are mostly RC as well, but are still considered "robots". Demolition robots also come to mind, which, again, are strictly RC.

Re:Sharks (1)

Larryish (1215510) | about 2 years ago | (#40137227)

Industrial robots are automatons, and thus qualify for the title of "robot".

Are they smart? No.

Are they sentient? Define "sentience".

Are they autonomous? Yes.

TALON and similar "robots" are robot in name only, name being given by companies that make fancy RC cars used for bomb disposal or demolition.

Re:Sharks (1)

SomeJoel (1061138) | about 2 years ago | (#40082107)

Uh... I think you're wrong. Unless you think JEL [jel-robot.com] and Brooks Automation [brooks.com] are not in the business of making robots.

Or maybe you can't count past one in Merriam Webster's definition. [merriam-webster.com] You're either an idiot or a troll, or perhaps a little bit of both, hmm?

Re:Sharks (1)

Larryish (1215510) | about 2 years ago | (#40137263)

On both of those company websites, they focus on AUTOMATION.

AUTONOMOUS ROBOTS.

Not fancy RC cars.

Automated industrial robots are truly robots. They are self-willed within the constraints imposed upon them by their programmers, but do not require an actual person to perform their assigned tasks.

Re:Sharks (1)

FunkDup (995643) | about 2 years ago | (#40082239)

I'm wondering where the point is when a bubble all of a sudden becomes a robot.

If their bubbles can manipulate physical objects according to a program then its a robot.

Re:Sharks (2)

amicusNYCL (1538833) | about 2 years ago | (#40083235)

If their bubbles can manipulate physical objects according to a program then its a robot.

The bubble doesn't manipulate anything, the bubble doesn't execute software or follow a program. It's a bubble. It's a space filled with some gas suspended inside a liquid. The laser heats the liquid, the liquid moves, and the bubble moves with the liquid. If I throw a ball, and that ball hits something, say a "physical object", and it "manipulates" that object, is the ball now a robot?

Re:Sharks (2)

FunkDup (995643) | about 2 years ago | (#40083559)

The bubble doesn't manipulate anything

Nooope. From TFA: "This level of control allows for very fine manipulation of small objects, and the picture below shows how a bubble robot has pushed glass beads around to form the letters "UH"

the bubble doesn't execute software or follow a program.

I think it's safe to assume those lasers are computer controlled, given they are using the term "robot" and some other obvious issues. Having the computing and control infrastructure external to the manipulator doesn't stop it from being a robot, it just becomes a remote controlled robot!

If I throw a ball, and that ball hits something, say a "physical object", and it "manipulates" that object, is the ball now a robot?

Think outside the bubble!

Re:Sharks (1)

amicusNYCL (1538833) | about 2 years ago | (#40090095)

Are you missing my point or being deliberately obtuse?

I think it's safe to assume those lasers are computer controlled, given they are using the term "robot" and some other obvious issues. Having the computing and control infrastructure external to the manipulator doesn't stop it from being a robot, it just becomes a remote controlled robot!

So that's my question, when does the bubble stop becoming a robot? Is it still a robot when the laser is off, or is it just a bubble then? What if the liquid isn't moving, it's just a liquid with bubbles in it. Are they still robots? Is my bottle full of robots? If I shoot a laser through my beer have I just created robots?

The lasers are what's important here. The bubbles are just along for the ride, as it were. The bubbles are passive. The liquid moves, the liquid is more of a robot than the bubble, the liquid is responsible for the bubbles being able to move other things because the liquid is moving the bubbles. But none of that could even happen without the lasers shooting as precise as they do, which requires software control. The lasers are the robot, not the liquid, and not the bubbles. The bubbles aren't robots manipulating other objects, the laser is a robot manipulating the bubbles.

Re:Sharks (1)

FunkDup (995643) | about 2 years ago | (#40094439)

All of the things this machine can do relate to the surface tension in the bubbles. Without that, you'd just be shining lights into a bottle. That's why the bubble is a remote controlled robot.

Re:Sharks (1)

amicusNYCL (1538833) | about 2 years ago | (#40094609)

All of the things this machine can do relate to the surface tension in the bubbles.

I could just as easily say that all of the things this machine can do relate to the lasers heating the liquid.

Overlord fail (1)

tomhath (637240) | about 2 years ago | (#40081499)

Eventually, it may be possible to conjure swarms of microscopic bubble robots out of nothing, set them to work building microstructures with an array of thermal lasers, and then when they're finished, give each one a little pop to wipe it completely out of existence without any mess or fuss.

Take that you little SOBs. Kind of an interesting opportunity to use massively parallel processing though.

Big bubbles... (2)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | about 2 years ago | (#40081525)

Moving 100m bubbles around with lasers. That's pretty impressive...

Re:Big bubbles... (2)

linear a (584575) | about 2 years ago | (#40081619)

Hope they aren't breaking any strategic weapons treaties with those oversized lasers.

Re:Big bubbles... (2)

Dahamma (304068) | about 2 years ago | (#40082197)

I hope they aren't breaking any strategic weapons treaties with those beads!

You know China is just going to come up with a 150m bead, and the US will have to respond. Pretty soon it's going to be one Mardi Gras mistake away from world destruction.

Re:Big bubbles... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40083909)

Moving 100m bubbles around with lasers. That's pretty impressive...

Yes, 100m bubbles are one tenth of a kilometre across, that's just over 328 feet across, and since the bubble is likely round, at the bottom it has an area of 84539 square feet, all moved with a laser! Were these lasers free electron lasers like those being developed by the US Navy? A 100,000 watt laser might be able to move a bubble with a bottom surface area of 84,539 square feet (or burst it).

100-m-diameter glass beads? (2)

PaulBu (473180) | about 2 years ago | (#40081527)

I think that a chunk of glass about 30 stories high can be called a "bead"... Losely... ;-)

Or, I think that letter \mu got lost while this story was flowing through ether, more likely!

Paul B.

Re:100-m-diameter glass beads? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40081635)

M=meter, m=micron

Re:100-m-diameter glass beads? (4, Informative)

Dunbal (464142) | about 2 years ago | (#40081657)

Er, no. M = mega. m = meter. Micron usually uses the abbreviation (mu, which slashdot refuses to print), and where you can't use mu for some reason some texts cheat by using the letter u. You, however, are dead wrong..

Re:100-m-diameter glass beads? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40081663)

M=meter, m=micron

Actually, m=meter. micrometer aka micron is m.

Re:100-m-diameter glass beads? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40081679)

M=meter, m=micron

Actually, m=meter. micrometer aka micron is m.

Well, there is the problem. ./ doesn't seem to show the lowercase mu, thus um turns into m

Re:100-m-diameter glass beads? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40082291)

Well, there is the problem. ./ doesn't seem to show the lowercase mu, thus um turns into m

You must be new here.

Re:100-m-diameter glass beads? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40084337)

Slashdot was coded before the invention of all these fancy characters, that's why.

I hope the glass beads are not 100 meters in size (1)

cvtan (752695) | about 2 years ago | (#40081549)

Apparently browsers cannot handle the Greek mu for micron (maybe they can!). Anyway, isn't micron a deprecated unit? Nanometers nm are in, microns are out.

Re:I hope the glass beads are not 100 meters in si (3, Funny)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | about 2 years ago | (#40081655)

if( fashion joke )
{
    whoosh( Beardo );
}
else
{
    nanometers = 10^-9;
    micrometer = 10^-6;
    micron = micrometer;
}

Re:I hope the glass beads are not 100 meters in si (1)

Cederic (9623) | about 2 years ago | (#40082121)

So why not say 0.1mm, using a unit familiar to the audience and discernable on a standard ruler?

Instead they said 100 metres, which are sodding big balls.

Re:I hope the glass beads are not 100 meters in si (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40082861)

b/c a micron is a thousandth, not a tenth, of a mm

Microbots? (2)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40081563)

Nice results, but why allude to the bubbles as robots (microbots)?

Article title (1)

submain (856941) | about 2 years ago | (#40081661)

Most. Badass. Article. Title. Ever.

Re:Article title (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about 2 years ago | (#40082287)

Most. Badass. Article. Title. Ever.

Well, the title of the actual article is "Microbots Made of Bubbles Have Engines Made of Lasers" which sounds even cooler to me. :-P

This reminds me of when IBM did something similar with a fancy electron microscope [ibm.com] or something like that quite a while back.

Doing it with bubbles and lasers sounds totally cool, and makes me really want to see the first mechanical application of this. That's gotta get you something seriously cool, right?

Can they be automated? (1)

mj1856 (589031) | about 2 years ago | (#40081885)

It appeared in the video that a single bubble was being manipulated by hand with a laser pointer. That's cool, but I was hoping to see perhaps a few hundred bubbles, with computer controlled precision scattering of the laser. Each bubble would be maneuvered in a very precise, computer controlled manner and the bubbles collaborating to perform specific functions. Is this the next step?

This is so geek it's cool! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40082299)

I want one for my swiming pool.

I wonder how long before advertisers start putting Red bull logos in the surf?

Those are robots? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40083599)

How can they call that robots when they'r not even automated? It looks like a simple disc being dragged/pushed by a laser through resistance on its center.

How visible are the lasers? (1)

sapphire wyvern (1153271) | about 2 years ago | (#40083847)

This looks like a tech that could be used to run a proper volumetric display. If you used glass beads of different colours, or found a way to make them fluoresce (perhaps by energizing an internal gas, or phosphor coating, or something?), you might be able to come up with something a fair bit more impressive than just "UM".

A real volumetric display would certainly have a lot of applications. I'm sure the military would love it for battlefield visualisations, etc.

Number 8? (1)

clickety6 (141178) | about 2 years ago | (#40084775)

The big question is can these bubble bots be used to keep number 8 in the village and prevent him from escaping?

hey, we can move bubbles with lasers! (1)

khipu (2511498) | about 2 years ago | (#40091929)

Scientist A: "Hey, we can move bubbles with lasers."

Scientist B: "That's pretty boring. But robotics is hot. Maybe we can get press coverage if we call the 'bubbles' 'robots'."

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