robots are great at quickly, and doing it precisely. They’re used in applications from 3D printing to surgery, but have traditionally excelled as pick-and-place robots. The setup is ideal for moving small objects rapidly, and some industrial models can pick up to 300 items per minute.

Completely unfolded, the milliDelta with 15 x 15 x 20 mm roughly the size of a penny. (?: Wyss Institute)

Now, a tiny new delta developed at Harvard’s Wyss Institute is making that seem practically glacial. The milliDelta is a mere 15mm x 15mm x 20mm, and that’s a key factor in its ability to move so fast. Simple physics tell us that the relationship between mass and inertia is directly proportional, and so reducing the mass of an object reduces how much force is needed to overcome its inertia and move it.

That small mass combined with piezoelectric actuators allows the milliDelta to move at up to 75Hz, which is 15 to 20 times faster than commercial delta robots. But, it’s not just fast—it can achieve a down to 5 micrometers (thousandths of a millimeter). That’s roughly equivalent to the thickness of a strand of spider’s silk.

Obviously a robot this small isn’t intended to do any heavy lifting, but it’s perfect for two applications in particular: micro-assembly and microsurgery. For industrial electronics manufacturing, the speed and precision of milliDelta would be indispensable. And, for robotic microsurgery, it could actually save lives.

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