This shape-shifting robot can split into pieces, snap back together
A miniature robot that has the ability to change its shape or split into tinier bits has the potential to redefine targeted drug delivery. A group of scientists at Taiwan's Soochow University has developed a soft robot made from magnetic fluids that's capable of doing everything listed above. It will be able to navigate the narrow crevices of the human body with ease.
Why does this story matter?
- Over the last decade, we have seen an increase in the application of tiny robots in the medical field. However, their application has been limited due to the material used to make them or their size.
- Miniature robots made of soft, malleable materials are the next big leap in the field. And if they can change their shape as per requirements, that's a jackpot.
Ferrofluid was used to build the robot
A group of international scientists led by Xinjian Fan constructed a robot using "ferrofluid," in this case, a suspension of iron oxide and hydrocarbon oil. Then they used rotating, spherical magnets to split the robot into even tinier bits or elongate it to move through narrow passages. The same magnetic field can be used to merge the bits back into one as well.
Scientists used a maze to demonstrate the robot's abilities
The researchers demonstrated the robot's ability to easily traverse narrow pathways by creating a maze with sections of different widths. They then used the magnetic field to split the robot into a swarm. This helped it reach the end of the maze.
How can the robot help in targeted drug delivery?
The robot can be a game-changer in targeted drug delivery. For instance, a patient can swallow a drug-carrying robot that would split inside the patient's body. The robots can then deliver medicine with cell-level precision and achieve micro-manipulations. This would be helpful in treating blood clots in the brain or delivering medicines to hard-to-reach tissue gaps and blood vessel branches, too.
Magnetic field should be strong enough to penetrate human tissue
To utilize the potential of this invention in biomedical applications, it still needs some polishing. Firstly, the magnetic field to control the robot has to be strong enough to penetrate the human tissue barrier. Moreover, the usefulness of the ferrofluid robots will also depend on how much drug they can carry. But their shape-shifting nature should help with that.