How to teach a microbot new tricks

Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a method of propelling tiny swimming microbots without using a cumbersome on-board fuel system.

The microbot – which measures only 1.3 millimeters in length – can best be described a diode, or an electrical element that only allows a current to flow in one direction.

However, an electric dipole is created when the diode is exposed to an alternating electric field.

The dipole then pushes on ions in the water, driving them backward and moving the microbot forward.

Additional navigational capabilities, such as turning 180-degrees, was made possible by modifying the initial AC field with a supplementary DC element.

“Miniaturization will be vital if the robots are ever to navigate human bodies, like in Fantastic Voyage,” explained Kate McAlpine of the New Scientist.

“[As such], the group is also investigating ‘yeast-boats,’ which use metabolic reactions to motor through glucose or hydrogen peroxide solutions. A similar vehicle may one day carry a molecular doctor on board to make a diagnosis – or dock with diseased tissue to deliver a shipment of drugs.”

(Via New Scientist)