30 May 2022

Millimetre-long robot swims, crawls through body

RedHerring The Back Page

It looks just like a caterpillar!

Human bodies are difficult spaces to navigate if you’re a small robot trying to deliver a drug payload. 

There are liquid-filled pipes to swim through, a huge variety of wet and dry tissues to grip onto, and unexpected twists and turns to navigate. It’s like a triathlon! 

Scientists working at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Germany have invented a worm-like robot that is up for the challenge. 

Their soft-bodied, millimetre-long robot can inch its way through human tissues, clinging to the complex 3D surfaces with microstructures and tough bioadhesives. 

The robot looks just like this! (Don’t believe me, watch the video below.)
The cute little robot up close.

The little robot can leap off the surface of tissues, swim through fluid and then grip onto the surface on the opposite wall.

It’s guided by external magnet fields.

This robot could reach previously inaccessible disease sites and perform monitoring and minimally invasive biomedical functions, the researchers said

“By integrating both microstructures and tough bioadhesives into a unique robot footpad design, we have demonstrated controlling the soft climbing robot to locomote freely on 3D tissue surfaces from the porcine GI tract and respiratory tract,” the researchers said. 

“As potential functions, the robot has been shown to deliver cargos while climbing in enclosed small spaces and still maintain multimodal locomotion, including walking, rolling, and swimming, allowing a broader reachable workspace in complex 3D terrains.”

One limitation is that the robot can’t climb for a long distance in liquids as the footpad loses its grip over time. 

“In the future, with more advanced underwater bioadhesives to be developed, our robot could potentially climb 3D tissue surfaces fully submerged under water,” the researchers said. 

If you have a story payload to deliver, worm your way over to penny@medicalrepublic.com.au