Scientists take challenge of developing functional microdevices for direct access to the brain, spinal cord, eye and other delicate parts of human body
A tiny robot that gets into the human body through the simple medical injection and, passing healthy organs, finds and treats directly the goal – a non-operable tumor… Doesn’t it sound at least like science-fiction? To make it real, a growing number of researchers are now working towards this direction with the prospect of transforming many aspects of healthcare and bioengineering in the nearest future. What makes it not so easy are unique challenges pertaining to design, fabrication and encoding functionality in producing functional microdevices.
Soft materials that can use magnetic fields to generate desired time-varying shapes could provide an engine for microswimmers
One day, microrobots may be able to swim through the human body like sperm or paramecia to carry out medical functions in specific locations. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart have developed functional elastomers, which can be activated by magnetic fields to imitate the swimming gaits of natural flagella, cilia and jellyfish. Using a specially developed computer algorithm, the researchers can now automatically generate the optimal magnetic conditions for each gait for the first time. According to the Stuttgart-based scientists, other applications for this shape-programming technology include numerous other micro-scale engineering applications, in which chemical and physical processes are implemented on a miniscule scale.
The chemical element gallium could be used as a new reversible adhesive that allows its adhesive effect to be switched on and off with ease
Some adhesives may soon have a metallic sheen and be particularly easy to unstick. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart are suggesting gallium as just such a reversible adhesive. By inducing slight changes in temperature, they can control whether a layer of gallium sticks or not. This is based on the fact that gallium transitions from a solid state to a liquid state at around 30 degrees Celsius. A reversible adhesive of this kind could have applications everywhere that temporary adhesion is required, such as industrial pick-and-place processes, transfer printing, temporary wafer bonding, or for moving sensitive biological samples such as tissues and organs. Switchable adhesion could also be suitable for use on the feet of climbing robots.
A soft actuator using electrically controllable membranes could pave the way for machines that are no danger to humans
In interacting with humans, robots must first and foremost be safe. If a household robot, for example, encounters a human, it should not continue its movements regardless, but rather give way in case of doubt. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart are now presenting a motion system - a so-called elastic actuator - that is compliant and can be integrated in robots thanks to its space-saving design. The actuator works with hyperelastic membranes that surround air-filled chambers. The volume of the chambers can be controlled by means of an electric field at the membrane. To date, elastic actuators that exert a force by stretching air-filled chambers have always required connection to pumps and compressors to work. A soft actuator such as the one developed by the Stuttgart-based team means that such bulky payloads or tethers may now be superfluous.
It’s a typical afternoon at the zoo, and you find yourself looking at the exhibits of reptiles and amphibians in miniature imitations of wild and exotic habitats. At one of the displays you notice a gecko crawling on a window with superhero ease.
Latest publication in Scientific Reports
In the 1966 movie Fantastic Voyage, a submarine complete with crew is shrunk in size so that it can navigate through the human body, enabling the crew to perform surgery in the brain. This scenario remains in the realm of science fiction, and transporting a surgical team to a disease site will certainly remain fiction. Nevertheless, tiny submarines that could navigate through the body could be of great benefit: they could deliver drugs precisely to a target location, without causing side effects and stressing the whole organism.
Engineers explore ways to take robotics to the limits of size and function. In the 1966 film Fantastic Voyage, scientists at a U.S. laboratory shrink a submarine called Proteus and its human crew to microscopic size and then inject the vessel into an ailing scientist.
Der Ingenieur Metin Sitti ist herumgekommen: Istanbul, Tokio, Berkeley, Pittsburgh – und nun Stuttgart: am Max-Planck-Institut für Intelligente Systeme baut er gerade ein Labor auf und lobt die Chancen für seine Forschung mit kleinen Robotern.
Our lab alumnus Assist. Prof. Bahareh Behkam at Virginia Tech in USA received the National Science Foundation CAREER award from the Biomedical Engineering program in 2015. Her award will focus on investigating immune cell-bacteria interactions in the cancer tumor microenvironment.