Friday, August 21, 2009

Living machines?

microbots being created are not solely machines. Several institutes have been involved in incorporating organic living tissue with inorganic components to create hybrid devices that are part machine, part organism. The first such devices were self-assembling microbots powered by living heart muscle, created by engineers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Each tiny robot is composed of an arch of gold connected to a sheath of cardiac muscle grown from rat cells, and if released in the body, it feeds off glucose in the blood to get energy to move. To test the microbots, the researchers immersed them in a protein and sugar solution that mimicked internal body conditions. As the heart muscle contracted and then relaxed, the microbot could be seen to 'walk' forward.
These microbots could potentially be used in microsurgery, for example to clear out the build up of plaques within arteries. The technology also has potential for creating new legs or fingers for amputees by allowing new muscle cells to grow over artificial bones.

Miniature motors

Instead of relying on a magnetic field, other researchers are creating microrobots powered by tiny motors that could swim through the body and help with diagnosing and treating certain conditions. Dr. James Friend and a team of mechanical engineers at Monash University in Australia have already built a liner motor the size of a salt crystal, but are now working to create an even smaller one the width of two human hairs.. Its propulsion mechanism is similar to what the bacteria E. coli uses to swim through the body. A rotating motor whirls the flagella around its axis, much like a stockwhip, and if it is in a liquid, it screws its way through the fluid. "Imagine a pizza maker who takes a round ball of dough and, as he throws it into the air, he spins it so it turns into a helical motion. Well, our motor does the same thing, except it

Microscopic Robots

Tiny robots small enough to enter the human body are being developed by researchers for a variety of purposes including treating cancer, drug delivery, and even the growth of new cells and tissues.

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Doctors are often faced with the challenge of performing microsurgery to repair blood vessels, transplant tissue or reattach a severed limb. These procedures are very intricate, and surgery is often not the most effective solution since it can be very invasive and difficult to conduct. Soon, many surgeons could be turning to nanotechnology and performing delicate tasks by remotely controlling tiny robots, similar in size to a grain of rice, that could travel through the body.
At Tohuku University in Japan, electrical engineer Kazushi Ishiyama and his group have designed tiny spinning screws that can swim through veins in the body. They can potentially burrow into tumours to kill them or deliver drugs to a specific tissue or organ. Since they are so small, they could be injected into the body using a standard hypodermic needle and once inside, could be magnetically steered around the body using a 3D magnetic field supply and controller. Ishiyama believes that these devices will be particularly useful for removing brain tumours since they are difficult to operate on.