Stunning breakthrough: Mini-forcefield created to control swarms of microbots

Stunning breakthrough: Mini-forcefield created to control swarms of microbots

These tiny microbots could be used to find cancer cells.

Researchers at Purdue University have just found a way to control miniature robots about the size of a dust mite by using magnetic force fields.

It’s a big breakthrough that could allow scientists to control swarms of so-called microbots that could perform a multitude of complex tasks requiring cooperation, according to a Discovery News report.

In the past, scientists had only been able to move groups of microbots in unison, but this technique allows independent movement of the microbots, kind of like how a colony of ants operates, lead researcher David Cappelleri said in a statement.

“The reason we want independent movement of each robot is so they can do cooperative manipulation tasks,” he said. “Think of ants. They can independently move, yet all work together to perform tasks such as lifting and moving things. We want to be able to control them individually so we can have some robots here doing one thing, and some robots there doing something else at the same time.”

The magnetic field does more than just control the microbots; it actually acts as a power soure as well, as the tiny robots are too small to have their own onboard power source.

“The robots are too small to put batteries on them, so they can’t have onboard power,” Cappelleri said. “You need to use an external way to power them. We use magnetic fields to generate forces on the robots. It’s like using mini force fields.”

The microbots are shaped like disks and are just 2 mm in diameter, and the goal is to use machines as small as 250 micros in diameter, or about a tenth of the size of the ones being used now.

This could be big news for manufacturing and medicine industries, as they could be used as sensors in biopsies, looking for cancer cells in a petri dish.

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