The idea of using nanotechnology in robot form has long been a part of speculative science. Now, the vision is coming closer to being a reality. A team of researchers from Georgia Tech University has created a microbot so small it is almost impossible to see it with the naked eye.
The implications of this technology are massive—despite its minuscule size. From helping fight disease inside the human body to monitoring fragile ecosystems, the microbots may be the first step towards a world-changing breakthrough.
Wiggle, Wiggle, Wiggle
Everything about the scale that these tiny robots operate on is impressive. According to their official paper, each microbot weighs in at just five milligrams. That’s a bit lighter than a single grain of sand. Meanwhile, the 3D-printed device is only two millimeters long.
Even more impressive is the fact that they are so small, without battery technology being ready to shrink with them. To overcome this obstacle, the Georgia Tech team turned to a unique power alternative: vibrations.
The microbot is powered by a tiny piezoelectric actuator that is triggered by anything from an acoustic speaker to an ultrasound device. Vibrations from the actuator make the bot’s legs move, propelling it forward. Despite its miniature size, the device can travel four times its length in one second. This is quite an impressive feat, considering its lack of traditional power.
To help test the microbots, the team created a tiny playground where they can manipulate them and learn more about how they move. One day, they hope to develop versions that can jump and swim.
While the technology behind these microbots is undoubtedly impressive, what’s even more exciting are the enormous implications they have for the world. From medicine to environmental protection, these mini bots are the first step towards true nanotechnology.
In the healthcare field, they could be used to deliver targeted medication therapy to difficult-to-reach areas of the body. If they continue to shrink, similar devices could be sci-fi nanobots that help repair injuries in real-time at the cellular level.
Meanwhile, Georgia Tech’s current bots may also prove to be useful in environmental protection tasks. For example, teams could release a colony of them into an ecosystem. They could then report back and allow scientists to monitor conditions without damaging or intruding on the fragile environment. In both situations and many others, the microbots have a bright future.
Even so, they still have a long way to go.
Researcher Azadeh Ansari says, “We can look at the collective behavior of ants, for example, and apply what we learn from them to our little robots. These micro-bristle-bots walk nicely in a laboratory environment, but there is a lot more we will have to do before they can go out into the outside world.”
Regardless, the technology is both impressive and awe-inspiring. As more companies start to see the practicality of microbots, their features will only become more sophisticated.
For now, they are certainly a very small step (pun intended) towards true nanobots.