Emailing from the Max Planck Institute in Stuttgart, Germany, lead author Metin Sitti said the tiny soft robot can be used in different ways depending on where it's needed inside the body for drug delivery or other therapeutic use.
“In the case of digestive or urinary systems, where the current robot could get in with its current size, the robot would be swallowed,” Sitti told Seeker. “For internal organ applications, we would deploy the robot through a small incision, like in the case of laparoscopy. In vascular system applications, we could inject it omto the blood vessels.”
While other ingestible robots have been developed, the millirobot has several advantages over other techniques, according to the research team. Most importantly, the robot is very versatile in its modes of locomotion. Thanks to its biologically inspired design, the millirobot can easily transition from swimming in a liquid to scooting over a solid surface.
“We looked at the physical mechanism of locomotion of soft-bodied caterpillars and jellyfishes and took inspiration from them,” Sitti said. “The result is that our millirobot is a mix of small-scale soft-bodied animals, such as a beetle larva, a caterpillar, a spermatozoid, and a jellyfish.”
RELATED: New and Improved RoboBee Flies, Dives, Swims, Then Flies Again
Thanks to its biomimetic design, the millirobot has multiple ways to get around, Sitti said. In a video released with the research publication the millirobot is shown inching along like a worm, swimming like a manta ray, and carrying cargo by encircling small objects then rolling them into place.
“After the robot is deployed inside the body, it can be navigated using seven different locomotion methods to reach to the target disease area,” Sitti said. “Then, the robot can deliver drug locally in a controlled dose by using its shape-change control. This can remove possible side effects that some drugs could have and can also improve the drug delivery efficiency and amount control.”