Programmable assembly of heterogeneous microparts by an untethered mobile capillary microgripper
At the sub-millimeter scale, capillary forces enable robust and reversible adhesion between biological organisms and varied substrates. Current human-engineered mobile untethered micromanipulation systems rely on forces which scale poorly or utilize gripper-part designs that promote manipulation. Capillary forces, alternatively, are dependent upon the surface chemistry (which is scale independent) and contact perimeter, which conforms to the part surface. We report a mobile capillary microgripper that is able to pick and place parts of various materials and geometries, and is thus ideal for microassembly tasks that cannot be accomplished by large tethered manipulators. We achieve the programmable assembly of sub-millimeter parts in an enclosed three-dimensional aqueous environment by creating a capillary bridge between the targeted part and a synthetic, untethered, mobile body. The parts include both hydrophilic and hydrophobic components: hydrogel, kapton, human hair, and biological tissue. The 200 μm untethered system can be controlled with five-degrees-of-freedom and advances progress towards autonomous desktop manufacturing for tissue engineering, complex micromachines, microfluidic devices, and meta-materials.