Magnetic Actuation

Magnetic actuation platforms are composed of several coils used to produce a magnetic field. The magnetic field gradient induces a force. Ferromagnetic objects are attracted toward the highest magnetic field gradients. By controlling the current inside the coils it is possible to control the trajectory of the objects. A camera monitors the position of the object in its environment in real time. 

Most of the works on the state of the art focuses on actuation inside liquids. However the viscosity of the liquid induces a drag force which decreases the velocity that can be reached. Actuation in different environments, such as in air or at the interface between air and liquid. is studied in Minarob team to increase the velocity of the displacements.

Magnetic platform

Magnetic Actuation in Air


As a proof of concept, FEMTO-ST, jointly with ISIR, developed MagPieR, a magnetic microrobot to participate to the NIST mobile microrobot challenge. This robot won the 2 mm dash and became the fastest magnetically actuated microrobot of less than 500µm. The CNRS French team, which then included LPN, confirmed this leadership in 2011 and 2012 and became three-time world champion.

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Despite these good results precision is still a challenge for actuation in air. Surface forces are predominant compared to volume ones. Overcoming adhesion between the substrate and the microobobject is thus a challenge. Several directions have been investigated, among which the use of piezoelectric actuation to induce a vertical movement of the object; the structuration of the substrate using microfabrication techniques and the use of the magnetic torque to overcome adhesion.


In addition control laws taking into account the two available inputs, the intensity of the current inside the coils and the duration of this signal have been proposed. 

Magnetic actuation at the interface between air and liquid

To avoid adhesion issues the Minarob team has investigated magnetic actuation of objects placed at the interface between a liquid and air. Due to surface tension the objects are placed on the surface, without being immerged. The velocity is not restrained by the viscosity of water. This approach arise original problematics due to the presence of a meniscus (Figure 6) and to the high velocities that are reached. Specific control laws must be implemented to ensure high speed trajectory tracking despite the non-linearity of the force fields. Modeling and control have been investigated and tested experimentally. Velocities up to 6mm/s have been reached for objects of less than 100 µm.