It appears the I-Swarm robot project has produced some fully-integrated and apparently functional micro robots -- almost four years after we saw the initial conceptual videos appear online. What makes these robots so impressive is the level of integration; they possess a micro-step locomotion mechanism, a solar cell, custom IR communication modules, and an ASIC (custom silicon circuitry) all in a very compact package. I've quite impressed by the pictures and videos (embedded below). Since I-SWARM stands for "Intelligent Small-World Autonomous Robots for Micro-manipulation", I'm a bit perplexed by the lack of manipulation capabilities. They do have a small piezoelectric-driven cantilever arm in the front, but it currently doesn't seem as capable as AFM tips employed by the MiCRoN project's micro robots. Perhaps, as the PhysOrg article notes, they just need additional funding -- appropriate for such quality engineering and top-notch research.
The robots themselves look pretty amazing:
Personally, I think the locomotion mechanism is most intriguing, to quote: "The locomotion unit consists of a flexible printed circuit board (FPC) with three legs that have a piezoelectric polymer actuator multilayer film on top." Here is a video of the locomotion unit being actuated!
You can see that the device just "skims" over the surface. This is because the robot takes very small steps -- on the order of a ?m (see photos below). One thing I notice in the video is the humming sound that changes in pitch depending on the direction the robot is moving. I presume this is due to the actuation frequency being in the audible range...?
Of course, the end-goal of this research was to create swarms of inexpensive and mass-producible robots (by way of flip-chip-type production) for mobile manipulation. While it appears they're doing a bang-up job on the fabrication methods (see swarms below), I'm not convinced about their manipulation capabilities to date.
However, the I-Swarm folks are clearly familiar with the MiCRoN project (robots shown below), so I have high hopes that (if further funded) the I-Swarm robots will be used for micro-manipulation projects, such as atomic force microscopy (AFM), as with the MiCRoN robots. Of course, this is not a fair comparison, as the wheeled MiCRoN robots were at least an order of magnitude larger...