Engineering Minute

Engineering Minute – Biocompatible Microrobots Adapt To Surroundings

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A group of scientists at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in conjunction with ETH Zürich, in Switzerland, developed biocompatible microrobots that could potentially deliver drugs directly to diseased tissue once ingested. Basing their design off of bacteria, the robots can swim through fluids and modify their shape as needed allowing them to pass through tiny blood vessels with ease. The microrobots are comprised of hydrogel nanocomposites that contain magnetic nanoparticles. Their specialized composition allows them to be controlled using an electromagnetic field. The team's research was recently published in Science Advances and outlines their efforts to develop a method for "programming" the robots shape for optimal travel through various types of fluids.

 

Scientists at EPFL and ETH Zurich have developed tiny elastic robots that can change shape depending on their surroundings. Modeled after bacteria and fully biocompatible, these robots optimize their movements so as to get to hard-to-reach areas of the human body. They stand to revolutionize targeted drug delivery.
Scientists at EPFL and ETH Zurich have developed tiny elastic robots that can change shape depending on their surroundings. Modeled after bacteria and fully biocompatible, these robots optimize their movements so as to get to hard-to-reach areas of the human body. They stand to revolutionize targeted drug delivery.
Credit: EPFL

From the EPFL article: "Fabricating miniaturized robots presents a host of challenges, which the scientists addressed using an origami-based folding method. Their novel locomotion strategy employs embodied intelligence, which is an alternative to the classical computation paradigm that is performed by embedded electronic systems. 'Our robots have a special composition and structure that allow them to adapt to the characteristics of the fluid they are moving through. For instance, if they encounter a change in viscosity or osmotic concentration, they modify their shape to maintain their speed and maneuverability without losing control of the direction of motion' says Sakar.

These deformations can be 'programmed' in advance so as to maximize performance without the use of cumbersome sensors or actuators. The robots can be either controlled using an electromagnetic field or left to navigate on their own through cavities by utilizing fluid flow. Either way, they will automatically morph into the most efficient shape."

 

Read more about the biocompatible microrobots that adapt to their surroundings at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne.