Thursday, July 26, 2018 by David Williams
Doctors are allowed to do many things to the bodies of their patients when they are treating them, all in the name of health and science. But what if your doctor told you that he needed to insert a few robots into your body? Would you consent?
A group of researchers have just revealed that they managed to develop nanobots that rely on so-called tumble locomotion to move around, and they hold great potential for many future medical applications. And they might arrive sooner than you expect them.
According to a report on a new study titled, “Design of Microscale Magnetic Tumbling Robots for Locomotion in Multiple Environments and Complex Terrains,” published recently online in the journal Micromachines, there are now tiny robots being driven by the power of magnetism that can be used to deliver drugs directly into certain parts of the patient’s body. The study was conducted by researchers from Purdue University as well as Lawrence Technological University.
The microscale magnetic tumbling robot, also referred to as microTUM, measures a mere 400 by 800 microns – millionths of a meter, or smaller than the head of a pin. It uses a dumbbell-shaped design made out of a polymer material and has two magnetic ends. It has a non-magnetic center section that can potentially be used to carry certain types of medication. By using a continuously rotating magnetic field, it can pretty much propel itself into a sideways or end-over-end tumbling motion that allows it to go from Point A to Point B. It can even work on uneven surfaces like bumps and trenches.
According to David Cappelleri, an associate professor in the School of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University and director of the Multi-Scale Robotics and Automation Lab, their newly-created nanobots could usher in a new era of biomedical treatments.
“Robotics at the micro- and nano-scale represent on of the new frontiers in intelligent automation systems,” he explained. “In particular, mobile microbots have recently emerged as viable candidates for biomedical applications, taking advantage of their small size, manipulation, and autonomous motion capabilities.”
The availability of nano- and microbots could one day lead to targeted drug delivery, said Cappelleri.
There are quite simply an almost endless list of potential designs for nano- and microscale robots that can be used in the biomedical industry. However, the specific design used in the microTUM microbots are effective mainly because of the clever application of tumbling locomotion in order to move around. In their testing, the researchers found that their design was effective even in traversing inclines as steep as 60 degrees – that’s a fairly impressive feat for something that’s meant to navigate the insides of the human body.
According to Maria Guix, a post-doctoral research associate, the microTUM holds many distinct advantages over other types of microbots. “The ability to climb is important because surfaces in the human body are complex,” she said. “It’s bumpy, it’s sticky.” And in dealing with certain forces between molecules inside the body that can get in the way of its regular movement, the microTUM also has a solution. “Under dry conditions, these forces make it very challenging to move a microbot to its intended location in the body,” she said. “They perform much better in fluid media.”
At the moment, the researchers are looking at applying ultrasound technology as well as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to move the microTUM robots around, but in the future, they are considering the use of certain vision-based alternative control systems that would rely on cameras or other complex sensors for easier navigation. The current design certainly works as a proof of concept, and they will work to further upgrade or improve upon it. The only question is, will the public accept it?
Read more about potential new applications of robotics technology in the medical field at Robotics.news.