With an aim to develop small-scale, independent robotics platforms, DARPA has plans to launch a new program called SHort-Range Independent Microrobotic Platforms (SHRIMP). SHRIMP will develop and demonstrate multi-functional micro-to-milli robotic platforms for use in natural and critical disaster scenarios, through a series of Olympic-themed events.

To determine potential field utility, each participating team will compete in an Olympic-style evaluation to test the platform’s mobility, maneuverability across flat and inclined surfaces, load-bearing capability, speed, and other capabilities.

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.

Actuator technologies greatly affect a robotic platform’s mobility, load-bearing capacity, and dexterity, among other capabilities. Under the SHRIMP program, researchers will work to push beyond the current state-of-the-art and develop actuator materials and mechanisms that prioritize force generation, efficiency, strength-to-weight ratio, and maximum work density.

There are a number of environments that are inaccessible for larger robotic platforms to provide much needed aide and support. “Smaller robotics systems could provide significant aide but shrinking down these platforms requires significant advancement of the underlying technology,” said Dr. Ronald Polcawich, a DARPA program manager in the Microsystems Technology Office (MTO).

“The strength-to-weight ratio of an actuator influences both the load-bearing capability and endurance of a micro-robotic platform, while the maximum work density characterizes the capability of an actuator mechanism to perform high intensity tasks or operate over a desired duration,” added 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.”

As SHRIMP aims to create complex micro-to-milli robots that operate independently, creating compact power sources and converters that can support high-voltage actuation mechanisms and significantly reduce battery drain becomes critical. As such, SHRIMP will explore fundamental research into power converters that can operate at frequencies of tens of Hz with exceptional efficiency as well as high energy density and high specific energy battery technologies.

Researchers will be further challenged to bring the fundamental research efforts together with engineering problem solving to develop and demonstrate multi-functional micro-to-milli scale robotics platforms that deliver untethered mobility, maneuverability, and dexterity. The SHRIMP platforms will be evaluated using many of the same principles employed in the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Robotics Test Facility, which has been adapted for micro-to-milli robotic platforms.

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