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The Rise Of Microscopic Robots: Scientists Making Headway In Developing Microbots

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Millions of tiny microscopic robots can one day perform a myriad of delicate functions, from fixing electronic devices to studying nerve signals of the brain.

At the American Physical Society in Boston in March, a team of researchers presented an army of remote-powered robots that are about the size of a speck of dust. They can walk and survive harsh conditions.

Creating An Army Of Microscopic Robots

The microscopic robots, or microbots, were developed by Marc Miskin, Paul McEun, and Alejandro Cortese at Cornell University. They created a technique wherein they placed layers of titanium and platinum on a silicon wafer. Whenever they applied an electrical voltage, the platinum contracts while the titanium remains rigid. This reaction is what became the motor that enables the robots to move.

"What we're doing is stealing from 60 years of silicon," commented McEun, a professor at Cornell University. "It's no big deal to make a silicon chip 100 microns on a side. What didn't exist is basically the exoskeleton for the robot arms, the actuators."

The limbs of the microbots are also incredibly strong. Each robot's body is 1,000 times thicker and 8,000 times heavier than each robotic leg.

The researchers skipped the batteries and instead, powered their tiny robots by shining laser on the solar panels behind their backs. Miskin claimed that the robots function for only a fraction of a volt and consume 10 billionths of a watt.

Microbots Are The Future

Moreover, because the robots are manufactured using silicon, scientists can incorporate sensors that will enable the robots to measure temperature and electrical pulses.

The team is already on the process of developing even smarter versions of their microscopic robots. They hope to incorporate onboard sensors, controllers, and clocks.

They are also looking into using ultrasound or magnetic fields as new sources of energy that will allow the robots to work inside the human body. The microbots could perform medical and scientific functions such as delivering drugs to a specific body part or map the brain.

"We found out you can inject them using a syringe and they survive," said Miskin. "They're still intact and functional, which is pretty cool."

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