Drawing inspiration from the wonders of the natural world, the latest in biotechnology, a soft, flexible microscopic metal “robot” can curl up like a pangolin to efficiently navigate inside the human body.
Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart took as inspiration for their design the only scaly mammal that is able to move fluidly through its interlocking keratin scales and The ability to curl itself into a ball when necessary.
Led by researcher Metin Sitti, the team designed a tiny robot measuring 2 centimeters (0.8 inches) long and 1 centimeter (0.4 inches) wide with overlapping scales that can move, roll and heat as needed. It has a soft polymer layer studded with magnetic particles, and a hard top layer with overlapping aluminum “scales.”
When the robot was exposed to a low-frequency magnetic field, the researchers could maneuver it to curl up and move around. When rolled up, the device can deliver particles such as drugs to targeted sites in the body.
It can then heat up to over 70 °C (158 °F) when exposed to a high-frequency magnetic field. At this temperature, it can be used to treat internal bleeding, remove tumor tissue and treat thrombus.
While this isn’t the first time scientists have turned to nature to develop tiny robots, they’ve already developed this caterpillar-inspired device and one modeled on a lamprey. But what makes this robot so special is that untethered robots made of rigid components that can still move freely are rare and hold great promise for tricky internal treatments and surgeries.
In lab tests, the pangolin-like device was able to move without damaging soft tissue, and then stopped blood flow by covering the bleeding and applying heat. You can see this, along with other tests, in the video compiled below.
Rolling robot heals wounds and targets internal childbirth
The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.