WASHINGTON, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) -- Swiss scientists have developed a flexible, nature-inspired tiny robot that can swim through fluids and may deliver drugs to diseased tissue one day.
The study published on Friday in the journal Science Advances described the soft, bio-compatible device "like a living microorganism," wriggling in fluids that may be dense, viscous or moving at rapid speeds.
Selman Sakar, the lead author of the study and assistant professor from Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, told Xinhua that the prototypes were around one millimeter in length but they could be made smaller using an origami-based folding method.
The miniaturized robot can pass through narrow blood vessels and intricate systems without compromising on speed or maneuverability, neither losing control of the moving direction.
The deformations can be "programmed" in advance without sensors or actuators, allowing the robot automatically morphing into the most efficient shape, according to the study.
The smart device is made of hydrogel nanocomposites and the magnetic nanoparticles within the hydrogel can be controlled by an electromagnetic field. It can also be left to navigate on their own through cavities by riding the fluid flow.
"Nature has evolved a multitude of microorganisms that change shape as their environmental conditions change," said Bradley Nelson, co-author of the paper and professor of robotics and intelligent systems at ETH Zurich. "This basic principle inspired our microrobot design."
The device is cost-effective and the researchers are working on improving its performance through complex fluids like those found in the human body.