The first tiny robots with semiconductor components, allowing them to be controlled through electrical signals, researchers in the US have developed.
The paramecium-sized robots provide the basis for creating even more complex versions of them, using silicon-based “intelligence” that can be mass-produced and at some point travel through the human body.
The collaborative effort was led by Itai Cohen and Paul McCoyen of Cornell University, and their former postdoctoral researcher, Mark Miskin, who is now at the University of Pennsylvania.
The relevant scientific article “Electronically Integrated, Mass Manufactured, Microscopic Robots” was published on 26 August in “Nature”.
These new robots are about 5 microns thick (one micron is one millionth of a meter), 40 wide and 40-70 long. Each of them consists of a simple circuit of silicon photovoltaics -which in practice functions as body and brain- and four electrochemical actuators, which are used as legs. The creation of the legs in particular was a great challenge, in order to be able to control their movement.
The researchers control the robots using laser pulses on different photovoltaics, each of which charges a separate set of legs. By alternating the laser between the front and rear photovoltaics, the robot can walk.
These tiny robots operate at low voltage (200 millivolts) at 10 nanowatts and are resistant for their size, and can be mass-produced with relative ease.
Researchers are looking for ways to strengthen them with more complex electronics and capabilities; which could pave the way for the use, at some point, swarms of them inside the human body, to treat injuries, diseases, etc.