The award was given for the paper, “First Leaps Toward Jumping Microrobots,” written by Bergbreiter and students Wayne A. Churaman and Aaron P. Gerratt.
The paper presents the first results for jumping robots at millimeter-size scales. Jumping at small sizes requires the quick release of stored energy to accelerate the robot to its takeoff velocity. Two approaches to this energy release are considered. The first is similar to the method used by most larger jumping robots and insects; energy is stored mechanically and generates thrust against the ground upon release.
A new microfabrication process incorporates polymer springs for the robot leg and the resulting 4mm x 4mm x 0.3mm jumping mechanism has been launched over 32 cm into the air by hand. The second approach utilizes stored chemical energy and generates thrust by expelling gas from a chemical reaction. This energetic material has been combined with sensing, control, and power on a 4mm x 7mm x 4mm polymer chassis, and jumps in response to light stimuli have reached 8 cm in height.
You can view a video of these robots in action in a story on Bergbreiter’s work at the IEEE Spectrum website.
The NTF Award dates to 2007 and encourages research and development of "entertainment robots and systems" and new technologies for future entertainment.