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These robots can swim within the body and cure your cancer or heart attack

Imagine a microscopic machine that could swim through a person’s blood vessels on its way to delivering medicine to a cancerous tumour or one that unclogs an artery to prevent a heart attack.

These feats aren’t possible yet. But researchers are designing miniature robots, called micro swimmers, that may soon do all of these things.

The robots scientists want to deploy in the human body are much, much smaller. They’re typically less than 1 millimetre (0.04 inch) in size. At their largest, they might be the size of a few grains of table salt. But they can be much smaller — so small that they can be seen only with a microscope.

The human body is made up mostly of the wet stuff. Blood, spinal fluid and other liquids make up about 60 to 65 percent of the volume of the human body. So to move through this environment with ease, robots must swim. But finding the right materials and designs to send robots swimming through even the tiniest blood vessels has proven tough. But not impossible. Indeed, scientists have been inching toward this vision throughout the past decade.

The payoff should be worth the wait, says David Cappilleri. He’s a micro roboticist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. “Microrobots can go places that larger robots can’t.” What’s more, he argues, “they can handle tools with finer precision.”

Humans don’t have much experience moving things around micro-environments of the body, explains Bradley Nelson roboticist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. But some other organisms do this well.


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