Remember that old 1966 sci-fi flick “Fantastic Voyage,” about a microscopic vessel that travels inside the human body? Scientists are developing a new micro robot that appears to be inspired by the bloodstream-surfing submarine depicted in that old B-movie.
A team of scientists funded by the National Science Foundation and the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is working on the tiny prototype robot, which would function like a living creature and may one day be safely used to pinpoint diseases within the human body.
Called “Cyberplasm,” the robot will combine advanced microelectronics with latest research in biomimicry -- technology inspired by nature.
Sound fantastic? There’s more.
Here’s how researchers described the device, which they estimate to be several years from completion: “The aim is for Cyberplasm to have an electronic nervous system, 'eye' and 'nose' sensors derived from mammalian cells, as well as artificial muscles that use glucose as an energy source to propel it.”
The scientific team aims to engineer and integrate robot components that respond to light and chemicals in the same way as biological systems.
"We're currently developing and testing Cyberplasm's individual components," said Daniel Frankel, a bioengineer from Newcastle University, who is leading the UK-based work. "We hope to get to the assembly stage within a couple of years. We believe Cyberplasm could start being used in real-world situations within five years".
As a model for the robot, scientists are studying key functions of the sea lamprey, found mainly in the Atlantic Ocean. Future uses: “The ability to swim unobtrusively through the human body to detect a whole range of diseases,” researchers said.
Once it is developed, the robot will be less than one centimeter long. Future versions could potentially be even smaller – less than one millimeter.
The research team said the micro robot’s sensors are being developed to sense light and chemicals and convert them into electronic impulses that are sent to an electronic “brain” equipped with sophisticated microchips. This brain will then send electronic messages to artificial muscles telling them how to contract and relax, enabling the robot to move using an undulating motion.