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All-Terrain Tiny Robot Designed To Deliver Drugs

These microrobots in a petri dish may be the next drug delivery tool in the human body.
Purdue University
These microrobots in a petri dish may be the next drug delivery tool in the human body.

Smaller than the head of a pin, the microTUM tumbles end over end through bumpy, steep and wet topography to reach its final destination. Purdue University researchers hope the microscale magnetic tumbling robot they've designed will eventually be able to deliver drugs to a specific location in the human body.

The microbot is flat, dumbbell-shaped and controlled by magnetic fields. A non-magnetic midsection is designed to carry cargo like medications.

Associate Professor and Director of Purdue's Multi-Scale Robotics and Automation LabDavid Cappelleri says "Robotics at the micro and nano scale represent one of the new frontiers in intelligent automation systems."

The magnetic particles are aligned inside the robot to respond to a rotating magnetic field. That's what makes it move.


Purdue says other microscale robots use a rocking motion where contact between the robot and the surface is continually lost and regained. But constant contact, like the microTUM, takes advantage of the constant adhesion and frictional forces to climb steep terrains.

Right now, Cappelleri and his team are studying how they can move the microTUM around. "Can we control it autonomously? Can we get it to go on different paths unpredictably? Our next phase would be to integrate the drugs to the robot."

The robot and the drug would be injected into the patient using a syringe or laparoscopically.

Findings are detailed in the journal Micromachines.

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With more than 30 years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market, Ann Thompson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology.