Thin-film lead-zirconate-titanate (PZT) actuators are a potential enabling technology for autonomous micro-robots with locomotion abilities rivaling biological systems. Actuators capable of supplying the large forces and extended displacements needed to drive terrestrial micro-robotic locomotion have been designed and tested. These actuators use a combination of upward and downward unimorph bending to generate in-plane robotic joint motion. 500 μm by 100 μm actuators have demonstrated forces greater than 5 mN over almost 1 μm stroke length at just 20 V. These actuators can be leveraged to drive angular displacement of high-aspect ratio silicon flexures. Actuators are currently being integrated into flexural arrays to produce joint angles comparable to insects. Stacks of these silicon joint structures may be used to reinforce load-bearing capacity of the completed micro-robotic legs. Dynamic simulations of hexapedal and many-legged robots less than one centimeter in length utilizing these actuator-joint structures indicate potential payloads ranging from 50 to 200 mg, depending on the joint design, and walking speeds up to approximately 4 cm/s.

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