University of Toronto engineers have developed a process to 3D print microrobots and automate them wirelessly using magnetic fields, allowing them to travel and perform functions within the human body. The microbots can be built into numerous shapes for any number of biomedical applications — including drug delivery and taking biopsies.
Each microrobot is manufactured the same way by using the ultraviolet lithography method of 3D printing, which is used to pattern hard magnetic particles in an elastomer matrix. According to a paper released by the engineers, “This method, based on ultraviolet (UV) lithography, uses controlled reorientation of magnetic particles and selective exposure to UV light to encode magnetic particles in planar materials with arbitrary 3D orientation with a geometrical feature size as small as 100 micrometers.”
Once the tiny robots are deployed, magnetic fields are used to make them travel to their target destination, where the appendages can then release their medical payloads or close their mechanical jaws to retrieve a sample of tissue for analysis. The engineers demonstrated the microrobots capabilities by manufacturing 20 differently shaped robots, which were then programmed into their 3D printer — building and solidifying each one and orienting their magnetic particles.
“As a robotics research community, there’s a need to explore this space of tiny medical robots. Being able to optimize designs is a really critical aspect of what the field needs.” — Professor Eric Diller, lead engineer
The engineers plan to use their technology to create smaller microrobots (sub-millimeter sizes) with more complex shapes for continued research in biomedical applications.