Robotics

World’s first ciliary microrobots could change the way we take medicine

World’s first ciliary microrob...
The new type of highly maneuverable microrobot uses a propulsion system inspired by the ciliated organism, the paramecium
The new type of highly maneuverable microrobot uses a propulsion system inspired by the ciliated organism, the paramecium
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Design and fabrication process of ciliary stroke motion microrobots developed by Prof. Choi’s research team.
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Design and fabrication process of ciliary stroke motion microrobots developed by Prof. Choi’s research team.
The new type of highly maneuverable microrobot uses a propulsion system inspired by the ciliated organism, the paramecium
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The new type of highly maneuverable microrobot uses a propulsion system inspired by the ciliated organism, the paramecium

Science fiction is fast becoming reality, with scientists in South Korea developing an astonishingly fast-moving remote-controlled microrobot designed to travel through the human bloodstream to deliver treatment directly to the organs that need it.

Developed by the Department of Robotics Engineering at the Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology (DGIST), the new microrobot is highly maneuverable and moves a least eight times faster than its most recent predecessor, using a propulsion system inspired by the commonly studied ciliated organism, the paramecium.

The race has been on for some time now to develop ways to deliver treatment directly to the body part where it's needed – such as a clogged artery or tumor. This is because conventionally administered drugs must travel through the entire system, which carries a risk of overdose and often causes side effects such as nausea and weakening of the immune system.

A major challenge in creating a microrobot that can travel directly to an affected organ is the way fluids in a microscopic environment work.

Microorganisms such as bacteria and protozoa propel themselves the way they do for a reason – they can't move efficiently through fluids in a macro environment using the kinds of movements that larger animals use. This is especially the case in a fluid that is thicker than water, such as human blood, where even the types of propulsion systems used by boats and submarines aren't efficient.

That's why scientists and engineers have been looking to nature for answers, and experimenting with microrobots that propel themselves in the various ways that microorganisms such as protozoans and bacteria move. Until now, however, a paramecium-like propulsion system with the large number of moving, hair-like cilia that these organisms use has seemed beyond reach.

The South Korean research team achieved this world first by using 3D laser lithography to create a ciliated polymer base structure for the microrobot. They then deposited a layer of nickel and titanium over the cilia to provide magnetic actuation and ensure it is compatible with a biological system.

Design and fabrication process of ciliary stroke motion microrobots developed by Prof. Choi’s research team.
Design and fabrication process of ciliary stroke motion microrobots developed by Prof. Choi’s research team.

The researchers were then able to set the cilia beating back and forth using an electromagnetic coil system, with impressive results.

The 220 micrometer-long robot can move 340 micrometers per second, with a much greater range of maneuverability than previous microrobots operating under magnetic attraction drive, according to the researchers. The controller can shift the angle of the microbot from zero to 120 degrees, which would allow it to navigate its way through blood veins in a body.

An example of the speed and range of movement can be seen in the video below.

If it lives up to its promise, the new microrobot will be able to deliver heavier and more complex payloads to target areas than previous microrobots. Scientists envision an injectible microrobot that can dissolve harmlessly within the body after its mission is complete.

The next phase, according to the South Korean researchers, is further biocompatibility studies, and potentially tailoring the microrobot's functionality to different tasks and environments.

"We'll continually strive to study and experiment on microrobots that can efficiently move and operate in the human body, so that they can be utilized in chemical and cell delivery as well as in non-invasive surgery," says team leader Professor Hongsoo Choi.

The research is published in Nature.

Source: DGIST

5 comments
ChrisWalker
scares me that this same tech could be used to control brain function, and the perfext excuse to use it as such is arriving right on time with zika babies and a entire generation of hive mind robot controlled "children" as perfect slaves. very scary how these two events are timed perfectly together
S Michael
So while North Korea is building intercontinental missiles and atomic bombs. South Korea is developing microrobots to deliver medicine. Which is the peaceful nation, and which should be condemned and watched closely?
CraigAllenCorson
@ChrisWalker - Ask yourself why we would want to enslave little children using this technology when we already have the ability to build robotic slaves that would not need rest or food. I hope this calms your Luddite fears.
windykites
This idea gets ciliar and ciliar (lol)! What happens if the blood vessel gets too narrow for the robot to get through? Could that form a blockage?
ChrisWalker
@CraigAllenCorson not really, "Brave New World" with its world controllers had the Gammas, the whole point is production and consumption, see with nothing but Robot slaves, they dont consume anything or need anything so your manufacturing base is practically zilch, unless its a one trick pony to produce Robots that have no purpose but stand around and rust basically and true power is defined by what and how fast you can build things as was proven by America during WWII when it was our manufacturing might that won the war, obviously something Asians learned as they take more manufacturing from America and keep manufacturing from Most of Africa and South America. so no, my fears are not quelled