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Robots, Tiny: Purdue Study Working on Mini Robots to Navigate Cells

Jan 17, 2016 10:34 PM EST
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In terms of having more ammunition against diseases at the cell level, there's always tiny robots. Or at least, Purdue University researchers are trying to set forth miniscule robots in the fields that include manufacturing and medicine, as a UPI article recently reported.

That is, in research recently published in the journal Micromachines, the scientists talked about how they'd like to control such robots with a technology that is essentially a series of "mini force fields."

Each robot would work collaboratively with a group but be controlled on an individual level. The group put together tiny remote controls constructed of planar coals that can put forth magnetic fields on an individual level.

"The robots are too small to put batteries on them, so they can't have onboard power," David Cappelleri at Purdue University, said in a press release. "You need to use an external way to power them. We use magnetic fields to generate forces on the robots. It's like using mini force fields."

While researchers in the past have placed planar coils on the perimeter of the area where robots are being deployed, the effect is only to create a general force field. Cappelleri and the group worked to create a technique that zeroes in more intimately.

"The approach we came up with works at the microscale, and it will be the first one that can give truly independent motion of multiple microrobots in the same workspace because we are able to produce localized fields as opposed to a global field," Cappelleri said in the press release. "What we can do now, instead of having these coils all around on the outside, is to print planar coils directly onto the substrate."

Using this technique, the group can control individual robots by changing the strength of the current of electricity that moves through the miniscule coils.

Eventually, the team hopes to make the microbots even smaller than their current size of two times a pinhead, to about 250 microns, about the size of a dust mite.

Once a smaller size is achieved, the group asserts that microbots could take part in putting together tiny electronic components, or work in a petri dish divvying up cells; or given probes and sent to look for cancer cells.

"Cancer cells have different stiffness characteristics than non-cancer cells, and in some of our previous work we put force sensors on the end of these robots to figure out which ones are stiffer than others," Cappelleri said.

The research is ongoing.

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-Follow Catherine on Twitter @TreesWhales

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