Battery-free Autonomous Microrobotics

Abstract: In this talk I will present battery-free autonomous microrobots that can fly in the wind or drive independently on the ground using microwatts of harvested energy from light or radio waves. The development of these mobile sensing platforms has transformative potential in applications from agricultural monitoring, infrastructure inspection, and seeking out sensor sources in hazardous industrial environments. This work challenges the conventional assumption that locomotion is beyond the reach of battery-free robots, demonstrates several approaches for achieving autonomous operation in realistic application scenarios, and opens up a discussion on the practicality of large scale mobile sensor deployments in remote environments. I will discuss how miniaturizing robots to near the gram scale can significantly reduce their energy requirements, which when combined with electromechanical and structural innovations can enable autonomous battery-free mobility. I will explain how we leveraged origami to create shape changing leaf-out origami robots that can fly in the wind to disperse sensors. I will also explain how we leveraged intermittent motion to enable battery-free robots that can roll around on the ground. Finally, I will present preliminary work towards creating miniaturized helicopters.

Bio: Kyle Johnson is a fourth year Ph.D. Candidate in Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington (UW) and the co-founder and current Executive Director of the outreach nonprofit AVELA - A Vision for Engineering Literacy & Access. He works with professors Vikram Iyer and Sawyer Fuller to research combinations of low-power actuation and control mechanisms to create autonomous microrobots optimized for resource constrained applications. This includes technologies for battery-free onboard actuation, wireless communication, remote sensing, and control. Kyle also works on helping decrease the opportunity gaps in the education system for underrepresented minority youth, supporting 100 different AVELA instructors in teaching to more than 1,200 K-14 students across Washington State during the 2022-2023 academic year. Findings from this wide scale outreach are also actively being published in STEM education journals and conferences. Kyle’s work has been recognized by the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program, Quad Fellowship, Amazon Science Hub Fellowship, Washington NASA Space Grant Consortium, and the National GEM Consortium. His publications in journals like Science Robotics and at conferences like MobiCom have been acknowledged by the NSF, GeekWire, Popular Science, and IEEE.