Researchers at MIT have created what may be the smallest robots yet that can sense their environment, store data, and even carry out computational tasks.
The tiny robots, which are about the size of a human egg cell, consist of tiny electronic circuits made of two-dimensional materials, piggybacking on minuscule particles called colloids.
Colloids are of tiny size and can stay suspended indefinitely in a liquid or even in air.
How the smallest robots can be used for diagnostic purposes
Since the cell-sized devices can sense their environment, store data and carry out computational tasks, they could eventually be used for diagnostic purposes in the body, for example to pass through the digestive tract searching for early detection of illness.
“We wanted to figure out methods to graft complete, intact electronic circuits onto colloidal particles,” said Michael Strano, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US.
“Colloids can access environments and travel in ways that other materials can’t,” Strano said.
The tiny robots could be a boon for the oil and gas industry. They could be deployed into the air at a chemical refinery to sense harmful by-products.
The devices could be inserted into one end of the pipeline, carried along with the flow, and then removed at the other end, providing a record of the conditions they encountered along the way, including the presence of contaminants that could indicate the location of problem areas.
How are these tiny-cell robots different from other robotic devices?
The MIT researchers have made the robots more functional, rather than making them mobile. They emphasised on developing ways to control movement.
The tiny robots are self-powered, using a small photodiode that provides electricity to the robots’ circuits to allow for computation and memory storage.
The study was published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
(With inputs from agencies)