A flexible microsystem capable of controlled motion and actuation by wireless power transfer


Microscale systems that can combine multiple functionalities, such as untethered motion, actuation and communication, could be of use in a variety of applications from robotics to drug delivery. However, these systems require both rigid and flexible components—including microelectronic circuits, engines, actuators, sensors, controllers and power supplies—to be integrated on a single platform. Here, we report a flexible microsystem that is capable of controlled locomotion and actuation, and is driven by wireless power transfer. The microsystem uses two tube-shaped catalytic micro-engines that are connected via a flat polymeric structure. A square coil is integrated into the platform, which enables wireless energy transfer via inductive coupling. As a result, the catalytic engines can be locally heated and the direction of motion controlled. Our platform can also integrate light-emitting diodes and a thermoresponsive micro-arm that can be used to perform grasp and release tasks.

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Fig. 1: Fabrication of the MTJEMS.
Fig. 2: Measurements and demonstration of the receiver coil and wireless energy transfer.
Fig. 3: Local heating effect via wireless energy transfer and locomotion of the MTJEMS, assisted by wireless power.
Fig. 4: Expandable and soft micro-arm on the MTJEMS and its active control.
Fig. 5: Flexibility of the MTJEMS.

Data availability

The data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


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We acknowledge P. Plocica, M. Bauer, S. Nestler, L. Schröder and R. Engelhard for technical support. V.K.B. acknowledges support and funding from the European Social Fund (ESF). D.K. acknowledges support from the German Research Foundation (KA5051/1-1). O.G.S. acknowledges financial support by the Leibniz Program of the German Research Foundation (SCHM 1298/26-1). This work is part of a project that has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant no. 835268).

Author information

V.K.B., F.Z. and O.G.S. conceived the idea. V.K.B. and F.Z. designed the experiment, analysed the data and wrote the manuscript with input from all authors. With help from Y.N., Y.H. and B.S., V.K.B. performed all steps from sample preparation to device measurements. D.K. assisted with electrical characterization of the impedance and organized the preparation of polymeric layer stacks. M.F., C.B. and D.D.K. prepared the materials for the polymeric layer stacks. F.S. and M.M.-S. contributed to the photopatternable PNIPAM materials preparation. F.Z. and O.G.S. supervised the work.

Correspondence to Feng Zhu or Oliver G. Schmidt.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplementary information


Locomotion of the symmetric MTJEMS A assisted by wireless energy.


Locomotion of the symmetric MTJEMS B assisted by wireless energy.


Count of bubbles generated with and without wireless energy.


Locomotion of the asymmetric MTJEMS C assisted by wireless power.


Switch between ‘close’ and ‘open’ status of the micro-arm controlled by remote inductive heating.


A process of cargo grasp-move-release performed by a MTJEMS with micro-arm.


Demonstration of the flexibility of the MTJEMS.


Demonstration of the flexibility of the MTJEMS with micro-arm.

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–12, Table 1 and refs. 1–16.

Supplementary Video 1

Locomotion of the symmetric MTJEMS A assisted by wireless energy.

Supplementary Video 2

Locomotion of the symmetric MTJEMS B assisted by wireless energy.

Supplementary Video 3

Count of bubbles generated with and without wireless energy.

Supplementary Video 4

Locomotion of the asymmetric MTJEMS C assisted by wireless power.

Supplementary Video 5

Switch between ‘close’ and ‘open’ status of the micro-arm controlled by remote inductive heating.

Supplementary Video 6

A process of cargo grasp-move-release performed by a MTJEMS with micro-arm.

Supplementary Video 7

Demonstration of the flexibility of the MTJEMS.

Supplementary Video 8

Demonstration of the flexibility of the MTJEMS with micro-arm.

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Bandari, V.K., Nan, Y., Karnaushenko, D. et al. A flexible microsystem capable of controlled motion and actuation by wireless power transfer. Nat Electron 3, 172–180 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41928-020-0384-1

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