Our work on low-profile microconnectors for modular robots has been published in The Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering in October 2010.

SEM cross section

This image shows the connector fabricated on a posterboard backing, however, they can be fabricated on a wide variety of backings from silicon wafer to cloth.

robot stills

We have developed a micromolded connector for applications such as folded millirobots  here reusability, low engaged profile and rapid assembly are required. Using laser micromachining and micromolding techniques, the microconnector is formed with a manufacturing process that can be integrated with the rapid prototyping of the millirobots. The microconnector engages through shear in one direction while forming a strong connection in orthogonal directions, with an engaged thickness of 200 microns. The microconnectors have been shown to be strong in the shear and normal pull-off directions with strengths of 42 and 27 N/cm^2, respectively, as well as being robust to shear failure, maintaining over 65% of their strength after being run to failure ten times. Due to the anisotropic property of the microconnector, it can also be rapidly engaged and disengaged repeatedly in the release direction without degrading the connector strength. The microconnectors have also been successfully integrated into various millirobots for quick appendage changes, showing their applicability to millirobots.

One possible use for the microconnector: allowing modular robots to combine into larger functional units, as shown in this animation below:

PM robot assembly