Microrobots the size of single cells could soon patrol the human body, according to professors at Cornell.
In 1959, Cornell’s Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman talked up the possibility of ‘shrinking technology’ revolutionising the medicinal industry in his lifetime. He may have been wide of the mark in that regard, having passed in 1988, but recent breakthroughs from the same University have brought his industry foresight into fruition.
It does sound a little freaky, but yes, we are talking about a troop of microscopic robots potentially entering and scuttling around the human body. Researchers have developed microscopic robots – or microbots – in the past, but crucially this marks the first occasion that a prototype has successfully been able to move of its own accord.
Created by researchers at Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania, this winning model incorporates semiconductor components which can be controlled using standard electronic signals. Employing the same circuitry fundamentals that have powered our computers and phones for half a century, researchers found that the best solution was also the simplest.
Small enough to be injected through a hypodermic needle, the microbot measures around five microns thick, 40 microns wide, and 70 microns in length, and its drone like shape is operated through two major systems. Two sets of dexterous legs thinner than human hair are coated in a hyperactive variant of platinum and are powered by two separate photovoltaics in the body, which convert light energy into electrical charge.