There are plenty of different designs for tiny robots that could one day swim and crawl through our bodies to deliver drugs, patch up wounds or clean out clogged arteries. But most of these robots can only move in one direction and might not handle the complex terrain. Now, a team from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems has developed a "millirobot" that can crawl, walk, jump, swim, roll and carry drugs around your system.
The natural world is an unending source of inspiration for all sorts of robots, big or small. It seems this new millirobot, which can be seen in action in the video below, used the humble caterpillar as its clearest inspiration. Measuring just 4mm long, the robot is more than just a thin strip of elastic silicon, and it moves by bringing its two ends together before pushing itself flat again.
"When we build robots, we look at the mechanics of the movement of soft-bodied biological organisms, for example, and are inspired by them," says Metin Sitti, corresponding author of a study describing the robot. "With our millirobot, the result is a mix of several soft creatures such as beetle larvae and caterpillars. However, a spermatozoid and a jellyfish also served as models."
This millirobot gets around thanks to a set of magnetic microparticles embedded into its rubbery body. Scientists can drive the device by deforming the silicon strip in different ways, with the help of an external magnetic field. The researchers put the robot through its paces by having it run an obstacle course, where it proved its ability to navigate a range of terrain types.
The team tested the millirobot in a synthetic stomach model and in chicken meat, using ultrasound imaging to track its movements when it was out of sight. The robot aced the test and, although the human body is different compared to the tested environments, the researchers say its success bodes well for eventual in vivo use.
The millirobot's acrobatic skills can be seen in action in the video below.