How This Tiny Robot Plans to Change the Future of Medicine

By Marcia-Ruth Ndege ‘21

pexels-photo-753267.jpeg

Figure 1. The robot has the ability to recover cargo, carry it to a different location, and deposit the shipment.

Some of the greatest discoveries in medicine have been driven by the advancement of technology. A group of scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Intelligent Systems, lead by Professor Metin Sitti, is hoping to contribute to such progress with their newly designed mili-robot. The robot is four millimeters in length, as flat as a piece of paper, and made of soft elastic polymer.

Inspiration for this robot came from the soft-bodies of caterpillars, spermatozoids, and jellyfishes. While the choice of a soft elastomer body may seem arbitrary, it is majorly beneficial: decreasing the number of hard surfaces on the robot greatly decreases the hazard of tearing tissues in internal organs. Moreover, since the robot would enter the human body through ingestion or implantation, its soft body makes these introduction methods fairly simple and virtually painless.

To control the robot, external magnetic fields are used to apply torque on microscopic magnetic particles that are embedded within the robot’s body. This changes the robot’s shape and allows it to make multiple maneuvers –walking and rolling on surfaces, jumping, crawling, climbing, and swimming in or on water. Professor Sitti hopes that the robot, which has been successfully tested on a synthetic surgical stomach model and on chicken tissue, will soon become the standard in medicine for targeted drug delivery and invasive surgery.  

References:

  1. W. Hu, et. al., Small-scale soft-bodied robot with multimodal locomotion. Nature 554, 81-85 (2018). doi: 10.1038/nature25443.
  2. Image retrieved from: https://www.pexels.com/photo/jellyfish-digital-wallpaper-753267/
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