Tiny Robots Can Help Doctors Perform Operations

A team of engineers at the University of Waterloo has developed a tiny robot that could eventually help doctors perform surgeries. The robot is inspired by the gecko’s gripping abilities and the inch worm’s efficient movement.

This research was published in Cells Reporting Physics.

Maneuver With UV And Magnetic Force

Robots use ultraviolet (UV) light and magnetic forces to maneuver on any surface, including walls and ceilings. It is the first soft robot of its kind that does not require connection to an external power supply, allowing remote operation and versatility. Because of this feature, robots can be used to assist surgeons and find hard-to-reach places.

Dr Boxin Zhao is a professor of chemical engineering.

“This work is the first time a holistic soft robot has climbed an inverted surface, advancing advanced soft robotics innovation,” he said. “We are optimistic about the potential, with more development, in several different areas.”

The team named the robot GeiwBot, after the creature that inspired its design. Built with intelligent materials, it can be altered at the molecular level to mimic the way geckos apply and release their powerful grip on their feet.

Making Tiny Robots

The robot is only four centimeters long, three millimeters wide and one millimeter thick, allowing it to climb vertical walls and traverse ceilings without the need for a power source. The robot is made using liquid crystal elastomer and synthetic adhesive pads. It incorporates light-responsive polymer strips that mimic the bending and stretching motion of an inch worm, while gecko-inspired magnetic pads on each end provide gripping capabilities.

Zhao is also the University of Waterloo Endowed Chair in Nanotechnology.

“While there are still limitations to be overcome, this development is an important milestone for harnessing biomimicry and intelligent materials for soft robots,” said Zhao. “Nature is a great source of inspiration and nanotechnology is an exciting way to apply its lessons.”

By developing a soft, strapless robot, the researchers paved the way for potential surgical applications through remote surgery inside the human body. They also help create technology that can be used to sense or search dangerous or hard-to-reach places during rescue operations.

The team will now develop a soft climbing robot that is propelled solely by light and does not require a magnetic field. The robot will also use near-infrared radiation instead of UV light, which could improve biocompatibility.

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