A four-inch wafer of silicon has been turned into an army of one million microscopic, walking robots, thanks to some clever engineering employed by researchers at Cornell University in New York.
In a paper, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, a team of robotics detail the creation of their invisible army of robots, which are less than 0.1mm in size (about the width of a human hair) and cannot be seen with the naked eye.
The robots are rudimentary and are reminiscent of Frogger, the famous 1980’s arcade game. But they take advantage of an innovative, new class of actuators, which are the legs of the marionette micro-robots, designed by the team.
Controlling movement in these tiny machines requires the researchers to shine a laser on minuscule light-sensitive circuits on their backs, which propels their four legs forward.
They’ve been designed to operate in all manner of environments such as extreme acidity and temperatures. One of their chief purposes, the researchers say, could be to investigate and manipulate the human body from the inside out.
These types of devices are known as “marionettes” because their power source is not on board the device and their functions are controlled remotely.
Without the external input from researchers, the devices don’t have the capability to move around. But Brooks and Strano said the marionettes are important because they provide a stepping stone for future devices that can work autonomously.
The micro-robots are more tech demo than functional product for now, but they show what is capable in the microscopic world.
The research team were able to show the micro-robots devices could fit within the narrowest hypodermic needle and thus, could be “injected” into the body. That kind of capability isn’t worthwhile right now and not possible yet.
The machines aren’t intelligent enough to target a diseased cell or respond to stimuli, so there’s no application for this invisible army.
However, the researchers said that “their capabilities can rapidly evolve” and suggest that future production costs could be “less than a penny per robot,” making them a valuable ally in the battle against disease.
The researchers are now trying to program the robots to perform certain tasks, using more complex computation and autonomy.
Improvements could pave the way for swarms of robots to head inside the body and repair wounds or go on the attack against problems like cancer (fabricated by public stress and the poisoned food industry), but that future is years — or potentially decades — away.
Even with the future years away, it should be noted that any potential treatment options using such devices would require stringent safety checks, have to overcome significant regulatory hurdles and would need to be trialed extensively before they were ever used inside human beings.
CNet.com / ABC Flash Point Future Science News 2021.