Show Details

Micro Bio-Bots

January 29, 2014

Tiny, swimming robots, modeled on sperm, use living cells to propel their tails.



Tiny robots with a real heartbeat. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

(Alex Jerez Roman/Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology)

(Alex Jerez Roman/Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology)

Some scientists are developing tiny robots to swim through the body for medical purposes.  But powering them is a challenge. Mechanical engineer Taher Saif of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and his colleagues have come up with a solution. They designed simple swimming machines, with a long tail like a sperm cell, out of a soft polymer. Then they grafted on living heart cells, which propel the tail by beating.

TAHER SAIF (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign):

And they provide the necessary propulsion. So, it’s all autonomous, and a combination of engineering structure and living cells.

The advantage of living cells is that they can generate power from nutrients in the body.  Eventually, Saif’s team plans to combine engineered nerve cells with muscle cells, to control smart bots that deliver drugs or perform minimally invasive surgery.  I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.