‘Swallowable surgeons’: Battalion of salt-crystal sized microbots in development that could revolutionize medicine

roboto
Artistic depiction of an army of microscopic robots. Credit: Criss Hohmann

Drs. Marc Miskin, Itai Cohen, and Paul McEuen at Cornell University spearheaded a collaboration that tackled one of the most pressing problems in microrobotics—getting those robots to move in a controllable manner. They graced us with an army of Pop-Tart-shaped microbots with seriously tricked-out actuators, or motors that allow a robot to move.

Each smaller than the width of a human hair, the bots have a blocky body equipped with solar cells and two pairs of platinum legs, which can be independently triggered to flex using precise laser zaps. The control is so accurate that the team was able to simultaneously jigger the legs of a battalion of microbots in a coordinated “march.”

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While it’s still up to anyone’s imagination how these bots can carry their own energy supply, there’s no doubt they already have a leg up in that they can be far more easily upgraded. Thanks to a “classic” circuit-based brain, these bots can be far more easily integrated with traditional silicon-based micro-electronics, compared to those, say, that operate on magnets, bringing us closer to the vision of a “swallowable surgeon.”

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“Controlling a tiny robot is maybe as close as you can come to shrinking yourself down. I think machines like these are going to take us into all kinds of amazing worlds that are too small to see,” said study author Miskin.

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