If you’re not a fan of creepy crawlies, brace yourself! In coming years, you might have tiny robot millipedes scuttling down your veins on your doctor’s orders. The coming generation of biotech is all about precisely targeting medication, with it being transported through the body to the problem area. To that end Hong Kong-based researchers funded by the Chinese government are in the process of developing microscopic ‘millirobots’ that will carry tiny drug doses through the body’s veins before dropping their load where it will be most effective.
The City University of Hong Kong team led by Zuankai Wang have revealed a 17 mm by 7 mm prototype that has tapered legs on each side that move in a similar way to those of a millipede as a result of magnetic fields that interact with iron particles in the robot. The working model will be a fraction of that size, around 100 micrometres long, and similar in size to a human hair. The researchers say the technology to reduce the prototype to that size already exists.
Source: The Times
Micro robots whose movement and structure are inspired by living organisms are a trend in biotech. The millirobot is reminiscent of another way to navigate the human circulatory system recently proposed researchers at Harvard. Their microbot slithers like a snake, complete with a scaled underside to grip surfaces.
With motion provoked by the use of magnetic fields applied from outside of the body to direct the millibots, they do not have to include any energy supply. That’s an important step towards future models consisting of entirely bio-degradable components that will mean they do not have to be removed from the body after delivering a targeted drug load.
Other research teams, such as one from Stuttgart’s Max Plank Institute, are also working on similar microbots for use in new biotech treatments. Their technology is also inspired by nature. Team leader Metin Sitti describes the German millibot’s structure as:
“mix of small-scale soft-bodied animals, such as a beetle larva, a caterpillar, a spermatozoid and a jellyfish.”
However, the Hong Kong team argues their prototype has the advantage of water repellent legs, meaning the millibots are more capable of navigating slippery or sticky environments – like the insides of our bodies. The full research was recently published in the Nature Communications journal.