Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Mechanical Engineering & Applied Mechanics

First Advisor

Vijay Kumar


The continuing trend in miniaturization of technology, advancements in micro and nanofabrication and improvements in high-resolution imaging has enabled micro- and meso-scale robots that have many applications. They can be used for micro-assembly, directed drug delivery, microsurgery and high-resolution measurement. In order to create microrobots, microscopic sensors, actuators and controllers are needed. Unique challenges arise when building microscale robots. For inspiration, we look toward highly capable biological organisms, which excel at these length scales. In this dissertation we develop technologies that combine biological components and synthetic components to create actuation, sensing and assembly onboard microrobots. For actuation, we study the dynamics of synthetic micro structures that have been integrated with single-cell biological organisms to provide un-tethered onboard propulsion to the microrobot. For sensing, we integrate synthetically engineered sensor cells to enable a system capable of detecting a change in the local environment, then storing and reporting the information. Furthermore, we develop a bottom-up fabrication method using a macroscopic magnetic robot to direct the assembly of inorganic engineered micro structures. We showcase the capability of this assembly method by demonstrating highly-specified, predictable assembly of microscale building blocks in a semi-autonomous experiment. These magnetic robots can be used to program the assembly of passive building blocks, with the building blocks themselves having the potential to be arbitrarily complex. We extend the magnetic robot actuation work to consider control algorithms for multiple robots by exploiting spatial gradients of magnetic fields. This thesis makes contributions toward actuation, sensing and control of autonomous micro systems and provides technologies that will lead to the development of swarms of microrobots with a suite of manipulation and sensing capabilities working together to sense and modify the environment.

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