These Tiny Shape-Shifting Microrobots Could Perform The Next Generation Of Operations

Transformers meets medicine.

Tiny shape-shifting robots developed by scientists in Switzerland could perform the next generation of operations.

Researchers at EPFL and ETHZ designed a prototype that imitates a bacterium whose tail folds away upon entering the bloodstream.

The prototype is propelled by an electromagnetic field to its destination, where it is heated and assumes the required shape to perform the operation.

Scientists have believed for years that microrobots could have a profound effect on medicine.

The devices could deliver drugs to specific locations and perform precise operations like clearing clogged-up arteries.

EPFL’s Selman Sakar said: “Our new production method lets us test an array of shapes and combinations to obtain the best motion capability for a given task.

“Our research also provides valuable insight into how bacteria move inside the human body and adapt to changes in their microenvironment.”

Screengrab, EPFL and YouTube.

However, the microrobots are only in development stage. Sakar said that there is still work to be done, including assessing the side-effects of the devices.

Constructed from a biocompatible hydrogel and magnetic nanoparticles, these microbots are nothing like normal robots. The devices are soft, flexible and motor-less.

But like their conventional counterparts, each robot still requires several stages of assembly.

First, the nanoparticles are inserted into layers of the hyrdogel, before an electromagnetic field aligns the nanoparticles and a process of polymerisation solidifies the hyrdogel.

The robot is then placed into water, where it folds into its final shape, which depends on the nanoparticles’ orientation.

Sakar and ETHZ’s Hen-Wei Huang and Bradley Nelson also developed a platform for testing robots designs and studying how they move.

The study was published in Nature Communications.

Robots in 2016: These Are The Robots And Drones That Will Change Our Lives

Robots that can deliver other robots:
Amazon Prime Air is a drone delivery service which the company is currently testing. The company aims to deliver products within just 30 minutes of the customer pressing the 'order' button. (AP Photo/Amazon)
Robots that could soon be saving lives:
MARK RALSTON via Getty Images
The robot 'CHIMP' developed by Team Tartan Rescue from the US prepares to complete a task during the finals of the DARPA Robotics Challenge. It is hoped that these robots will eventually replace emergency services workers during events like the Fukushima nuclear disaster. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
Robots that can carry your stuff:
MARK RALSTON via Getty Images
A robotic cheetah runs during a demonstration at the finals of the DARPA Robotics Challenge. DARPA's four-legged robots have been designed to carry supplies and ammunition for the US Army. Capable of travelling over tough terrain the hope is that these will eventually replace the need for trucks or small vehicles. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
Robots that can kill:
AFP via Getty Images
A sentry robot freezes a hypothetical intruder by pointing its machine gun during its test in Cheonan. South Korea unveiled a high-tech, machine gun-toting sentry robot that could support its troops in detecting and killing intruders along the heavily fortified border with North Korea. The weapons-grade robot can detect, raise the alarm and provide suppressive fire. (KIM DONG-JOO/AFP/Getty Images)
Robots that can race each other:
YOSHIKAZU TSUNO via Getty Images
Japan's motorcycle maker Yamaha Motor introduces the prototype model of a motorcycle riding robot 'Motobot' during a press preview at the Tokyo Motor Show in Tokyo on 28, 2015. (YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)
Robots that are toys:
The Sphero BB-8 remote controlled droid is on display at CES Unveiled, a media preview event for CES International, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, in Las Vegas. The robot is controlled by an app for a mobile device. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Robots that will do your weekly shop:
A new delivery drone company plans to revolutionise the way we do our shopping by replacing your weekly trip to Sainsbury's with a tiny delivery robot which will bring your fruit and veg straight to your door. (Starship Technologies)