Build a Very Small Robot: Make The World's Smallest Wheeled Robot With A Gripper.

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Picture of Build a Very Small Robot: Make The World's Smallest Wheeled Robot With A Gripper.
Build a 1/20 cubic inch robot with a gripper that can pick up and move small objects. It is controlled by a Picaxe microcontroller. At this point in time, I believe this may be the world's smallest wheeled robot with a gripper. That will no doubt change, tomorrow or next week, when someone builds something smaller.

The main problem with building really small robots is the relatively large size of even the smallest motors and batteries. They take up most of the volume of a micro robot. I am experimenting with ways to eventually make robots that are truly microscopic. As an interim step, I made the three tiny robots and the controller described in this instructable. I believe with modifications, these proof of concept robots, could be scaled down to microscopic size.

After years of building small robots (see here: http://www.instructables.com/id/Building-Small-Robots-Making-One-Cubic-Inch-Micro/) , I decided the only way to make the smallest robots possible, was to have the motors, batteries, and even the Picaxe microcontroller external to the robot.

pic 1 shows R-20 a 1/20 cubic inch robot on a dime.

pic 1b and 1c shows smallest wheeled robot lifting and holding an 8 pin IC.

THERE IS A VIDEO in step 3 that shows the robot picking up an 8 pin IC and moving it.
And another video in step 5 that shows the robot turning on a dime.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Picture of Tools and Materials
18x Picaxe microcontroller from Sparkfun: http://www.sparkfun.com/

Micro serial servo controller available from Polulu: http://www.pololu.com/

2 high torque servos from Polulu

2 standard servos from Polulu

.oo5" thick copper, brass, or phosphor bronze sheet metal from Micromark

2- 1/8" x 1/16" neodymium magnets

1- 1"x1"x1" neodymium magnet. Magnets available from: http://www.amazingmagnets.com/index.asp

Telescoping brass tubing from Micromark: http://www.micromark.com/

Brass pins from Walmart

Glass beads from Walmart

1/10" fiberglass circuit board material from Electronic Goldmine: http://www.goldmine-elec-products.com/

clear five minute epoxy

Assorted nuts and bolts


tin snips
soldering iron
metal files
small needle nose pliers

Pic 2 shows the Picaxe module used.

Pic 2b shows the back of the Picaxe module.

Onyoxa4 months ago


is it just me or does anyone else notice this is all done with a magnet through the table?

He got me, when i noticed, i laught so hard...

I noticed it too, I thought it was the robot, but I realized the 'robot' was the magnet controller under the table.

either that, or the magic of stop-motion.

Xixfas2 years ago
riyer22 years ago
mk20013 years ago
bfk3 years ago
Wow! Kudos on your contest win and coming up with such an innovative way to keep the bulk and power on the outside. The goal isn't how to pack everything inside, but how to make the machine as small as possible. Someday all powered devices may work this way.
devonfletch4 years ago
I've found really tiny motors in those tiny r/c helicopters. You can buy the whole thing for $15, and it's got some really good micro-stuff in it. Gears, batteries, motors, and even.... a remote control.
tinker2344 years ago
ok hey could i make them micro scopic also using velcro as well to make a holodeck so i can have the swarm assmeble and change color using color changing lights
llasram4 years ago
this is so cool!
how much does it cost to make?
yobwoc6 years ago
Brilliant, brilliant work. But you were wrong on the title. Some American doctors and robotic engineers are working on robots the size of a speck of dust, whick will be used to clear blood vessels. But as I said, good job.
Well, no, the author could quite possibly be correct in his statement in the title; he dubs his creation the world's smallest "wheeled robot with a gripper". Whether the wheeled part with a gripper qualifies as a robot is debatable, but it may indeed be the smallest of its kind. Nanobots are not designed with wheels and grippers, most probably acting as a tiny vessel for transporting drugs to designated locations.
Yeah, my bad. Should have read the title a bit more closely.
Brian857 yobwoc4 years ago
I don't think that those robots are wheeled, though.
do u mean nanobots?
Heywasup yobwoc6 years ago
i agree with yobwoc
durkluf4 years ago
well i think the purpose of life is to die as stated in matrix revolutions.
martzsam5 years ago
I don't think this should count as the worlds smallest robot. It isn't self contained. It is driven by a magnet underneath the table. anyone who calls this a robot is wrong. In a way you cheated.
Im going to try to make one.
Thats realy cool dude!
9874566 years ago
does liking robots make me a geek?
Possibly, but its much better to be a geek then a nerd...there's a huge difference.
 that is not true. a geek i good at one thing, and one thing alone, (aka only watching baseball, or only playing vieogames, or only doing schoolwork,or  only sodering robots. if ou are good at one thing, and only that, you are a geek regardless of what it is.) and a nerd is smart, but they can do other things as well, and not be social outcasts.
zye masonrulz5 years ago
In this world there are dorks, nerds, and geeks. Let's see if we can accurately describe them, without being insulting. Picture a Renaissance Faire. The dorks are the guys running around with a sword on their back . . . and tennis shoes. The nerd is the one with the completely accurate costume who points out that fact to annoyance of everyone around. But the geeks are the lords and ladies in the completely accurate costume with the appropriate weapons who are so comfortable in their nerdiness and dorkiness that they have elevated it to a new level. They have become cool due to the sheer awesomeness of their personality. These are the geeks - these are us and these are you - and we are the people who will rule the world. -ThinkGeek.com
You got it screwed up a bit, I'm in High School so I got first hand experience at this, Geek is smart but in a good way and aren't social outcasts, they are relatively low on the social totem pole but so is your average kid...A nerd is actually someone who is a social outcast and is not necessarily very good at anything, let alone being smart, and they are usually jerks.  They are much lower on the social totem pole.  The Stereotype of a Nerd being super smart is incorrect but the stereotype that Nerds get shoved in trash cans is also relatively incorrect...In other words, Geeks Good, Nerds Not so Good...

And if you have no social problems but you are still smart and good at most scientific subjects? I wouldn't care if people call me geek, that's kind of what I'm trying to live up to. As long as this does not go too far. Then I think I'll be safe.

 Hopefully this venn diagram will help clarify the distinction
Propaganda... Nerd is someone who lacks smarts and is also socially inept.  Geeks are ppl that are smart but in a cool sort of way, they generally have some friends, but not huge quantities of them.  ARE WE CLEAR!  I am in High School, I now this stuff, I could write a 600 page book on this and the complete breakdown, but I'm 17, I'm too lazy.  Listen to the person that knows first hand!
 i wonder if there has actuall been a study on this... but anyway, good pont
Yes there has, they called it High School, and it caught on, so they continued with it...
Gubban 9874565 years ago
My math teatcher calls me a geek! (Not a math geek)
 no, it means you think they are cool\want to know how they work\want to mak them
It's ok. You should be proud of being a geek.
Yes....unfortunately it does....I'm sorry....you will never live a normal life again.
Xyver5 years ago
Very cool.
anres3215 years ago
NICE one !! XD
LEDgonuts5 years ago
but you guys are wrong  cause the magnofield/magnet hooked up the servo would be nothing with out the external165378 resister and the magnetic feild to cobine with the remote to create signals thru the  feild to the magnet wich i have no i dea how powerd to resieve the disierd movement its not stop motion its not rocket sience     

There is a tiny magnet in the robot. He moves big magnet under table, robot follows big magnet. Simple example: -Take two magnets -take a piece of paper -put one magnet on top and one on the bottom of the paper -move around the one on the bottom -see the one on the top move with it This robot moves in the same way
degroof6 years ago
OK, I get the X/Y movement and the rotation around the vertical axis. That's pretty straightforward. And the raising and lowering of the gripper is done by rotating the magnet on the horizontal (pitch) axis. But how do you open and close the grip? It looks like it's using the vertical axis servo. Is it just a short rotate left and right to close and open the grip, then? I suppose that would work, as long as you programmed for it. No right-hand turns while holding something in the grip.
mikey77 (author)  degroof6 years ago
Yes, you are quite right. The vertical axis servo is pulsed clockwise or counterclockwise to close or open the gripper. And it can only maintain its grip while going straight or turning right. I considered cutting a tapered slot in the front of the cover piece so that when the gripper was raised it would tighten the grip. I also considered a more complex and functional shape for the gripper and rubberizing it for better grip. But for me, the point of these experiments was not to make the most functional robot or gripper possible, but to see how well it would follow a moving magnetic field. My main goal remains--to see if I can eventually make a microscopic robot with a functional gripper and feedback sensors. As far as I know, no one has done that yet.
may i ask how old r u?
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Ragent Heywasup5 years ago
Hey man, thats not cool..... :(
JohnJY mikey775 years ago
What do you plan on being? A watch maker?
JohnJY mikey775 years ago
On an average day Halo(I II or III) with mini robots, concert, jazz, and marching band, Cortana, and Coke, is NORMAL, we're all nerds. Thanks for the instructables, there great, now I can spend hours, nerding on this. Conventions, detail, and instructions are very useful. Thank you.
Rportal6 years ago
amazingly easy. but really expensive for such a small thing
m0f0 Rportal5 years ago
how much is it?
btw, im thinking if ppl can use paperclips instead of wire? im mean, theyre not insulated but....
zascecs5 years ago
Great idea; great job!
..the smaller, the better*

*Well, not really, the right word is 'cooler'. 
Paper Maker5 years ago
Hat to say, But its not the smallest. However, Its still awesome.
area365 years ago
well myn can turn on a penny!!!!! JK great job
bleach8155 years ago
so wats the use of it? taking it to class to annoy u'r neighbour who's sitting next to u in class?!XD
szechuan536 years ago
this is sooooooo coooooool except my dog ate mine. :(
lol, what happened next day? was it wheeling round in your garden with a new paint job
lol no, my dog was dragging her rear end on the carpet all day.
Lol nasty :s
derbert6 years ago
what's that lareg chip in the middle and what are the resistors? i've just taken apart two stereos that are filled with resistors and i have loads of old robots with controller boards. could you post a schematic plz? or a labelled version of this picture?
ruffrider6 years ago
im trying to build a robot that can lift a soda can and drive around but is cheap......
im not geting this is it powered by magnets
crush_crash6 years ago
hey you should show a video and a pic if it working and it working that would be brilliant
Etch36 years ago
can a ten year old do it?
mikey77 (author)  Etch36 years ago
When I was seven years old I made my first robot out of cardboard, tape and motors. Magnetic robots like the one in the picture could be made out of cardboard and copper wire.

The robot controller might be a bit expensive for you, but you could test your robots with a hand held magnet instead, The controller also requires experience in wiring and programming microcontrollers like the Picaxe.

If you get a few magnets and experiment with them, you may be able to come up with some cool types of robots. The robots here are the simplest forms of one magnet robots. I also tried 2, 3, and four magnet robots. Try different magnets and robot shapes. There are many types of magnetically controlled robots that can be built. Such as:

  • A two wheeled robot that balances like a Segway.
  • a robot with springy legs and an electromagnet that makes it jump.
  • A bug robot made of magnetized nickel plated conductive fabric, that uses surface tension to float on the surface of water. I made one.
  • Underwater robots propelled by a spinning magnetic field, that can swim in an aquarium.
You are only limited by your imagination and your ability to experiment and learn from the results. Do not think of difficulties or failure as a mistake, think of it as a learning experience.
im just saying dont think im being mean or anything but most people couldnt make this. im just trying to make a point try to make an instructable of sumthin easier so other ppl can enjoy it too. great instructable
I think a big part of Instructables is testing limits. I don't think I could make this robot, either, but I'm not very good at making things. :) Perhaps someone who already has some experience and wants to try something new and challenging could do this project, and even if it didn't work for them, it could still be a good learning experience. If the only Instructables on the site were ones that I could easily make, I would run out of challenges quickly. (And isn't being challenged one of the most fun parts of this?) It's important to have Instructables that require all different levels of skill so that 1) people of all levels can find a challenge and 2) people can have hard projects to aspire to. To mikey77: I've been following your instructables for a while, and this is another in a long run of surprising, fun, and challenging creations. Keep up the great work!
Etch3 mikey776 years ago
just FYI im not ten its just for my brother
cormac30506 years ago
Awesome! One well deserved vote for you!
wakojako6 years ago
awesome u should work 4 nasa
dov e6 years ago
you should add a saw and mini flame thrower
ausome you got my vote btw can this be turned in to a rc robot
REA6 years ago
anyone else thinking mini robot battles?
footer0 REA6 years ago
Unfortunately yes... I'd make saw blades and such for them...
REA footer06 years ago
it will be the biggest robot fighting hit since Battle Bots!
Bigev REA6 years ago
Tiniest. Tiniest robot fighting since Battle Bots.
REA Bigev6 years ago
ok now we need to attatch tiny saws and spikes to the bots. how can we get 5,800 rpm from a small motor?
footer0 Bigev6 years ago
I'm just to lazy to build them, you 2 are on your own.
Heywasup6 years ago
btw dont take my criticism the wrong way i love the instructable but its truly hard to make. GREAT GREAT INSTRUCTABLE 5stars and btw check out mine
Its small, I'll give it that...but I wouldn't classify it as a robot as is. The fact that it requires an entire external adaption system kinda breaks the deal with me, if it were all self propelled and contained, that would be another story
mikey77 (author)  Inuyasha101216 years ago
Nothing is truly autonomous. Even you and I are dependent on outside machinery and energy sources for our mobility (i.e. the earth and sun). Moving as much as possible outside of the robot is literally out of the box thinking. Is an industrial robot that has cables that go to an external power supply and computer controller not a robot? By using a magnetic controller robots can, for example, operate untethered inside the human digestive track. These techniques of magnetic control may limit the range of a robot, but for microscopic cell manipulation or medical robots that move through a human body it is not a problem. That is probably why there are scores of robotic researchers at dozens of universities experimenting with magnetically controlled robots of all shapes and sizes. It is narrow minded thinking and tunnel vision that keeps art and science from advancing. If you limit your self to the ideas and techniques of the past, you will severely limit everyone's future.
ok seriously make sumthin easier this should not really be an instructable because almost nobody can do it. im just trying to make a point that most ppl look at this and say "what?"
this is not for me something simpler peraps
Robot, yes; smallest, no. The robot is the entire assembly, including the CNC controller. However, I don't think it qualifies as 'smallest' because, as you say, it isn't self-contained; the robot is the entire mechanism, not just the manipulator. As neither piece will work without the other, the robot is the entire assembly.
I agree.
to be defined as a robot it has to sense its environment and act upon it. since this has no sensors it is not a robot, it's an automaton. Even if you don't accept that definition, automata like yours have already been made microscopic (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/10/1026_051026_tiny_robot.html)
*sigh* Another example of how language changes over time...

I like your definition: it's narrow and specific, as all good definitions should be. Problem is, on a practical level it won't work: most people won't make the effort to distinguish between robots and automata. Like so many other words, the functional definition has broadened to include things which aren't robots but exhibit traits people associate with robots.

As an example, your definition would exclude industrial robots - they don't sense their environment - but no one's going to start calling them automata.

Another example: there's a huge number of so-called 'robots' which are nothing of the kind: they're radio-controlled devices operated by a person. Strictly speaking, virtually none of the 'battle bots' are robots. Again, they look like robots; therefore, to most people, they are robots.
actually industrial robots do sense from their environment. they have shaft encoders at the very least which allows them the sense their joint rotations and stop at appropriate angles. their own bodies are part of their environment, just like we have stretch receptors on our muscles. If one is going to say "biggest/smallest/fastest X in the world" it's best to use the most conservative definition of X.
Agreed. I would call this a medium sized robot with small pieces.
quesoman6 years ago
so this is basically a very small forklift. you should make a replica scale model of the local Costco and drive this thing around putting boxes on shelves. Great ible. if i had the time, knowledge, and patience, i would definetily put this on my to-do list
Bigev quesoman6 years ago
Your suggestion made me giggle at the thought of teeny tiny boxes, in teeny tiny aisles, with teeny tiny customers, buying teeny tiny things, making teeny tiny profits...
jam BD6 years ago
wow................................ great concept. sooooo small can't all the electronics be eliminated by replacing the pic with a printer port. There are enough pins to do anything. And it is easier to change a program than reprograming a pic...
your dog6 years ago
cool! but alas, to much electronic know how for me. good job
Kryptonite6 years ago
Wow, another amazingly small robot! Great job, I wish I could do such small cirquitry.
mikevanky6 years ago
There is no motor to turn the wheels that are actually beads. I believe he used stop motion to animate this robot. I may have missed some thing here.
Yes, you missed something. Take a closer look at the instructable and you will see that it is using an external magnetic field to control movement. See pic 5 and 6. I agree that it does look like stop-motion animation, probably because of the slightly jerky motion caused by the magnetic interaction.
Zetheros6 years ago
Hey, you could make two of those robots and two controllers, put them in an altoids tin box and see which one could flip the other one over! If it works, you could probably enter it into the pocket sized competition.
Unit0426 years ago
Wow. It literally turns on a dime. And stops on a dime! Funny pun!

Now, how do you have the controller magnet not suck up the 'robot' and stick on? (magnets attract)
(and before you say it, yes, I know they also repel.)

This is epic. You should make an army of these and scare one of your siblings or something. 5*
Well, you've built the machines that can build the machines that can build the machines that can build the machines that can build nano-tech robots used for taking over the world.. Muhahahahahahahahahahaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa......... *cough hack wheeze chaaaack.....* *coughs up several copper plated nanobots, and a trail of blood follows them*
I believe everything you just said Sarcasm *Coughs up copper screws and bolts* Lol
amk5036 years ago
I wouldn't call it a bot, unless you include the CNC rig, in which case it's not exactly tiny. But, it's still an awesome idea. Sort of a side note: There are some pretty small DC motors out there now. I extracted a small one used to power the tail rotor in my sons broken RC helicopter. It was cylindrical, about 3.5mm in diameter and 1cm in length. I've been trying to find a place where I can buy these so I can build even smaller bots...
qualia amk5036 years ago
look for the vibrator motors in dead cellphones. they're sometimes tiny as. i found a 1.7mm one, it's insane. because its very easy to bend the spindle when removing the off-centre weight that makes it vibrate, i suggest simply balancing the weight on the other side, by making a sheet-metal plate with the equalising weight silver-soldered on or something, then super glue this face plate onto the off centre weight.
macrumpton6 years ago
Awesomely brilliant. You could really baffle people if you built the control unit into a table and found a way to make it silent. I suppose you could make it a little smaller if you made it segway style.
Jawa8886 years ago
that is seriously coool
raykholo6 years ago
as for the RFID power idea u mentioned, i shall again point u in the direction of using wireless power induction

to adapt that here, just coat the metal body with an insulating material ( thin layer of epoxy...) then wrap magnet wire around it

heres the instructable that the idea came from: link
whiteoakart6 years ago
This is truly remarkable. I look forward to seeing more work from you.
bowmaster6 years ago
That's pretty flippin small.
Pard6 years ago
Very well done! Saw this on hack-a-day, they did not give you enough credit. By definition this can be considered a robot, bit of a geek here and I like to read the Science Journals, anyways in 2004 the Standards Committee, the guys who basically tell use what is and what isn't came to the conclusion that machines that act like your typical robot but require wired or wireless help, such as power, computations, and other such things like programs are still robots unto themselves and the peripherals are not part of the robot at all. By that definition this little cube with a claw is by itself the robot and the CNC magnet control is actually a peripheral that is used to assist it. Basically what they said was a computer is a computer even without a monitor, a mouse, and a keyboard, but without the computer a monitor is a monitor and mouse is a mouse and a keyboard is a keyboard and nothing more. Just a dumb-ed down example. For sensors, I would have to dig around to find it again, but I came up with an idea to make a sensor with CNC type technology. It consists of two lasers that are perpendicular to one another. The farthest I got was to get the two lasers to trace my finger, and than using X,Y coordinates I was able to show where my fingers moved on a PC, it was like a mechanical smartboard. I am sure it would be possible to take my sensor and make it give feedback to the CNC controller, adding a bit of precision to your robot. Also another idea, my school robotics team came up with a robot that we powered with "wireless" energy, thanks to the smarts of Nikola Tesla, maybe a Tesla Coil of sorts, low-powered and directional, could be used here to keep power supplies off the robot but to still have feedback sensors on it. And on that smaller robot with no wheels, coat the edge in Teflon and round the corners, you want as little friction as possible, also if you made it into a inverted sky, of sorts but filing away the middle of the two edges you would greatly decrease the drag, making it much easier to move. What are you using for magnets?
mikey77 (author)  Pard6 years ago
I agree, in the robotics research community, the size of untethered robots is not determined by the size of external power sources or controllers. Otherwise, there would be no such things as microscopic robots, most of which get their power and control from large outside mechanisms.

I have an assortment of different shapes of neodymium magnets from 1/16"x1/32" up to 1 cubic inch. I obtained them from http://www.amazingmagnets.com/ and http://www.kjmagnetics.com/

a918bmxr6 years ago
but it is still really cool. gewd instructable ! :{)
Ghunter106 years ago
dude even though people may disagree, this is amazing, so what if it isn't the smallest or a nano car (which I am pretty sure is just nano wheels on axles) it is incredible
gregr6 years ago
The instructable has interesting information, but calling it "the world's smallest wheeled robot" is disingenuous.
Kiteman gregr6 years ago
Why? Do you know of one smaller?
Yes scientists can make "nano-cars" an the scales of atoms.<br/>Here is the article:<br/><a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-to-build-nanotech-motors">http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-to-build-nanotech-motors</a><br/>
gregr Kiteman6 years ago
The robot can't fit on a dime; the robot is actually quite large. Take a look at step four of the instructable to see how big the robot is. The robot's actual size is the CNC robot controller size plus the size of the wheeled part.

Without the CNC robot controller in step four the "robot" is just a small box with wheels made of sheet metal and magnets.

If you want to see some tiny robots check out here and here.
sorry for the double post but i just noticed he said wheeled
jrv_boots gregr6 years ago
This is most likely the smallest that can be produced by a DIY'er. The video clip is pretty good and shows it is functional.
krogie6 years ago
how to you controleit does it haave a remote controle or does it just work of the IC???
robo_bob6 years ago
i think its fake
laxap robo_bob6 years ago
robo_bob: maybe you missed step 4 ? Pictures 5 and 6 are showing what's under the robot, hidden below the blue background surface that we see in all photos and videos. mikey77, maybe you should post a video of this mechanism at work. Awesome project and idea! 5*
Indeed it is not fake, why would you fake it?
How dare you! It is not fake
Falconer136 years ago
Ingenious. These micro bots look like they are all done by hand. It may be possible to make smaller devices, but you would at least need to by an optical magnification system and some kind of high precision micro manipulator to do it. But if you are going that small, you may as well buy the machinery to do that.
pocketwatch6 years ago
Oh. My. God. How awesome.
i think this one beats yours
conrad24686 years ago
as seen on....HACKADAY
Sandisk1duo6 years ago
Gonazar6 years ago
Lol cute, loved the vid. Very interesting work, 5 stars!
Berserk876 years ago
awesome work. the video is hilarious.
cool instructable! what video?
jakezcop6 years ago
hehe... use it to do ur dirty work... like... like... pick up really small objects... MWAHAHAH! sry this is really really cool :D
tevers946 years ago
Great concept, love your designs. thanks for posting this
dombeef6 years ago