Generally speaking, robots are seen as these moving bulky machines loaded with complex systems of electronics, sensors, batteries and actuators. But, what if robots can be designed on a microscopic scale? What capabilities can they ensue?
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In a publication seen in Science Advances, researchers were inspired by microorganims to design smart microrobots that are elastic and highly flexible. These microrobots are made of hydrogel nanocomposites that can be controlled through an electromagnetic field because of their magnetic nanoparticles. They are biocompatible and can swim through dense or viscous bodily fluids modifying their shape as necessary--for example, they can navigate through blood vessels.
However, a lot of challenges are present when designing miniaturized robots such as creating a novel locomotion strategy. "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 Selman Sakar, a research scientist at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL).
Scientists at EPFL and ETH Zurich have developed tiny elastic robots that can change shape depending on their surroundings.
Credit: EPFL via Science Daily
"Nature has evolved a multitude of microorganisms that change shape as their environmental conditions change. This basic principle inspired our microrobot design. The key challenge for us was to develop the physics that describe the types of changes we were interested in, and then to integrate this with new fabrication technologies," said Bradley Nelson, also a lead scientist of the study at ETH Zurich. The researchers are now hopeful to use their findings to improve robotic performance for the navigation of more complex fluids presents in the human body.
Source: Science Daily