Researchers believe that micro-muscles could be used in the future to propel tiny robots smaller than a grain of sand through veins. These microbots could then enhance muscle contractions when controlled by electrical stimulation, so that they complete or even carry out complex operations. As such, scientists say, they could carry out tasks that neither tiny robots alone nor large devices could accomplish.
Researchers claim that the electrically charged chains of particles building up human muscles could also be used to lead electronic devices (such as these microbots). These devices could then rewire themselves at any desired state.
Applications could be endless for such devices. The microbots could travel through the human body fighting disease or even crawl into bombs and diffuse them, Michael Solomon, co-author of the study and chemical engineer said, noting the device’s versatility.
According to Solomon, the only challenge in building such microbots is in making them fully mobile. He explains that because they are minuscule, the microbots must move autonomously while also exerting force (pushing or pulling) on other objects.
Researchers designed a clever way of powering the microbots: muscles are made up of special chains of microscopic particles. These particles assemble and reassemble so that they can also help power the micro robots. Scientists used special spherical particles comprised of a combination of polystyrene. They then stretched the particles in the form of a rice grain (0.6 microns wide and 3 microns long).
They then coated one side of the particle with gold, so that it can serve as a terminal for electric current. The microbots were then placed in saltwater. Their gilded sides began to attract other microbots, forming chains of 50 to 60 microbots and scientists noted that the higher the salt concentration was, the more robots would become chained together.
When an alternate current was added to this system, scientists observed that the chains began growing at an unexpected rate (which they believe is limitless).
This property made researchers believe that artificial systems could be created, where, by building and destroying chains of microbots, they could enhance flexing or substitute muscles. Granted, muscles in the human body are 1,000 times stronger, however, the microbots can help build a flexible muscle system and by working alongside networks of other microbots, various movements can be achieved.
The study was published in the journal Nature Materials.