Tiny microbots fold like origami to travel through the human body

Tiny robots modeled after bacteria could be used to deliver drugs to hard to reach areas of the human body. Scientists at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich) have developed what they call elastic microbots that can change shape depending on their environment.

adaptive microbots drug delivery 1920x1084 1
The robots are modeled after bacteria and fully biocompatible EPFL/ ETHZ

When a patient needs medication, traditionally it is given orally or intravenously and the body’s systems will carry the medicine to the part of the body where it is needed. But recent developments in the field of targeted drug delivery have helped to ensure that medication is delivered to the specific area where it is required, with a higher concentration of the medication in some places. The development of elastic robots could potentially revolutionize targeted drug delivery by making it possible to deliver medication to any area of the body, even those that are difficult to access.

The microbots are highly flexible and are able to swim through fluids and change their shape in response to their environment, meaning they can squeeze through narrow blood vessels without slowing down or being difficult to maneuver. The bots are made of minute hydrogel nanocomposites which contain magnetic nanoparticles, so they can be controlled through the use of an electromagnetic field.

After creating the robots, the challenge was to find a way to “program” their shapes so that they could pass through all the different environments of a human body. Scientists found a way to use embodied intelligence, in which the bot’s physical being is adaptive to surroundings, rather than the traditional computation that most electronic systems use. The bots are constructed with an origami-based folding method which allows them to deform to the most efficient shape for any given environment, and deformations can be set in advance to make performance smoother. Once inside a body, the robots can either be controlled by an electromagnetic field or they can be left to make their own way by using the fluid flow inside the body.

“Our robots have a special composition and structure that allow them to adapt to the characteristics of the fluid they are moving through,” said Selman Sakar,  Assistant Professor, Institute of Mechanical Engineering, EPFL, in a statement. “For instance, if they encounter a change in viscosity or osmotic concentration, they modify their shape to maintain their speed and maneuverability without losing control of the direction of motion.”

The findings are published in Science Advances.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Write music with your voice, make homemade cheese

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Body surrogate robot helps people with motor impairments care for themselves

A team from Georgia Tech has come up with an assistant robot to help people who have severe motor impairments to perform tasks like shaving, brushing their hair, or drinking water.
Business

4 women innovators who are using tech to help others live better lives

Meet four women leaders who are not only at the forefront of technology today, but also using tech — from robotics and medicine to food and undergarments — to help others.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix right now (March 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Emerging Tech

Take a dip in the Lagoon Nebula in first image from SPECULOOS instrument

The European Southern Observatory has released the first image collected by their new SPECULOOS instrument, and it's a stunning portrait of the Lagoon Nebula, a swirling cloud of dust and gas where new stars are born.
Emerging Tech

Robot assistants from Toyota and Panasonic gear up for the Tokyo Olympics

Japan plans to use the 2020 Olympics to showcase a range of its advanced technologies. Toyota and Panasonic are already getting in on the act, recently unveiling several robotic designs that they intend to deploy at the event.
Emerging Tech

A.I.-generated text is supercharging fake news. This is how we fight back

A new A.I. tool is reportedly able to spot passages of text written by algorithm. Here's why similar systems might prove essential in a world of fake news created by smart machines.
Emerging Tech

Racing to catch a flight? Robot valet at French airport will park your car

Hate searching for parking at the airport when you need to catch a plane? Startup Stanley Robotics recently unveiled a new outdoor automated robotic valet system. Here's how it works.
Business

Bags with brains: Smart luggage and gadgets are making travel smoother

The bag you use to tote your stuff can affect the experience of any trip. In response, suitcases are wising up, and there are now options for smart luggage with scales, tracking, and more. Here are our favorite pieces.
Computing

At $99, Nvidia’s Jetson Nano minicomputer seeks to bring robotics to the masses

Nvidia announced a new A.I. computer, the Jetson Nano. This computer comes with an 128-core GPU that Nvidia claims can handle pretty much any A.I. framework you could imagine. At $99, it's an affordable way for A.I. newbies to get involved.
Computing

Nvidia’s A.I. Playground lets you edit photos, experience deep learning research

Nvidia is making it easier to access information on deep learning research. It has launched an online space with three demos for image editing, styling, as well as photorealistic image synthesis. 
Business

British Airways’ new Club Suite for business class comes with a door

British Airways is going after a bigger slice of the business class market with the imminent launch of the Club Suite. The plush seating option offers a more private space as well as an easier route to the bathroom.
Smart Home

Sony’s Aibo robot dog can now patrol your home for persons of interest

Sony released the all-new Aibo in the U.S. around nine months ago, and since then the robot dog has (hopefully) been melting owners' hearts with its cute looks and clever tricks. Now it has a new one up its sleeve.
Emerging Tech

Inflating smart pills could be a painless alternative to injections

Could an inflating pill containing hidden microneedles replace painful injections? The creators of the RaniPill robotic capsule think so — and they have the human trials to prove it.