A Walking Micro Robot Army Can Fit Inside the Human Body

Overview Microscopic robots consisting of a simple circuit can be guided within a human body to interact with cells and could be adapted to become a medical tool.

An invisible army of microscopic robots could someday be used to investigate the human body from the inside.

Each tiny robot, designed by a research team at Cornell University, a CES® exhibitor, is about five microns thick — a single micron is a millionth of a meter — and 40 microns wide. Each consists of semiconductor components that allow them to be controlled with standard electronic signals.

Outfitted with legs the size of a few dozen atoms, the cell-level robots can be moved by laser pulses at various photovoltaics. Toggling the light between the front and back photovoltaics, scientists can urge the robots to “walk.”

The robots have been designed to operate in various environments, including extreme acidity and temperatures, and can be readily mass produced.

Marionettes to Graceful Intelligence

In their current state, the robots are known as marionettes, devices with remote power sources and controls. Though not capable of many tasks right now, these robots may prove to be a stepping-stone to more complex and autonomous micro devices.

The research team that designed the robots are now working to program the devices to perform certain tasks and hold more complex computations.

At its tiny size — the length of the Abraham Lincoln on the back of a penny located within the image of the Lincoln Memorial — the robots may open doors to new, microscopic research and cell-level delicate tasks, especially as they gain onboard computation intelligence.

The Vision for the Robot Army

Itai Cohen, professor of physics in the Cornell University College of Arts & Sciences and a leader in the project, highlighted an example of his vision for the robots. In the future, if a surgeon reaches a region that is too sensitive to operate on, instead of using a scalpel in that scenario, the surgeon may be able to inject millions of the microscopic robots into the location. The robots are then able to sense the chemicals exuded by a tumor, move towards the tumor, form a polymeric wrap around the tumor and effectively stop the growth of the tumor.

From repairing wounds within the human body to helping combat diseases such as cancer, these robots can in the future perform complex tasks that elevate medical care or even discover new findings from within the human body.

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