2016 is a pretty futuristic-sounding year. We’ve been talking for decades about how robots will play an active role in our society sooner or later. As our ability to program them advances, they will likewise carry out more complex tasks. The emergence of medical micro-robotics is one exciting example of this.
Drexel University engineers have successfully developed their first robot chains, or micro-robots, creating a breakthrough in biomedical engineering. When utilized, these little bead-like links will work as doctors’ and nurses’ helpers to deliver medicine, as well as fixing ailments in the body by doing things like making necessary incisions and regulating blood flow.
The minuscule size of these contraptions allows them to squeeze into difficult-to-reach areas and do multiple tasks at once. Additionally, these micro-robots can travel far distances, such as from the shoulder to the foot, rather than being used exclusively for local treatments.
Most engineers and researchers encounter a lot of problems when working with micro-robotics, which makes Drexel’s breakthrough all the more impressive. These systems are usually too difficult to apply to medical experiments, because the longer a chain gets, the harder it is for it to navigate the body and go where it needs to be—problematic, given that “longer chains can swim faster than shorter ones.”
However, Drexel has developed micro-robots that can be controlled through magnetic fields, which makes it harder for them to split unintentionally and easier for them to be monitored by medical professionals who can manipulate the magnetic field in use.
Researchers or medical professionals control the magnetic field, making the robots spin faster or slower in the lab. When the magnetic field spins faster, the robots gain speed and begin to move faster too. The robots then move so quickly that they split into separate beads at desired locations, making themselves into even smaller units.
These super-miniature robots seem to be an extremely promising development within the world of medicine, especially effective for inserting drugs into the body and minor surgeries.
Even before this, micro-robots have been developed for application to various things, including “tissue incision, puncture of veins and cell scaffolding”.
Drexel University will continue this research, collaborating with international research partners in order to further develop micro-robots and program them into the future of surgery. As this research develops, the team hopes to accomplish goals such as creation of a less manipulative, less harsh tool for performing procedures inside the body.
The promise of micro-robotics can help convince patients of the future to consent to surgical procedures that would ordinarily be much more invasive and complex. These little robots will preserve the bodily integrity of patients as much as possible, as fewer incisions will have to be made and fewer stitches will be needed in surgery. Goodbye excessive scarring, scalpels and surgical knives!