Teeny robot is the future of surgery

A tiny caterpillar-inspired robot that can walk, crawl, jump, and even swim, should one day be able to patrol the human body from the inside, according to researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, Germany, who describe their work in a Nature paper.

The researchers who created the pliable millirobot, which is about the same size as a grain of rice, were inspired by soft-bodied beetle larvae and caterpillars. Jellyfish also lent some of their features to the tiny invention.

But how does this elastic robot achieve such a variety of movements if it doesn’t have any sort of limbs? The German researchers used external magnetic fields to put pressure on magnetic particles within its body changing its shape. It is this deformation, the engineers say, that allows the robot to jump over obstacles, crawl through tunnels, and much more.

These abilities will be put to the test once the minimalist robot is ready to move inside the human body and deliver drugs to targets that are otherwise difficult to reach without surgery. In order to do this, the tiny bot is also able to pick an object up, move it, and release it.

As yet the robotic caterpillar has been only tested in an artificial stomach model and chicken tissue. But one day soon, the researchers hope it could become a standard tool in healthcare.

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