Posted by: robotnews | April 4, 2007

doctor, i think i have a robot in my intestines

They say it is going to be the world’s first microbot to be able to swim through arteries and the digestive system.

They are an international team of scientist who are working on a robot that has a width of 2 human hairs. The leader of the team is James Friend, who is a scientist at the Micro/Nanophysics Research Laboratory at Australia’s Monash University.

This robot is so small that it is able to swim through many organs such as the heart, and is able to perform ‘minimally invasive microsurgeries’, according to Friend. The robot is designed to be able to transmit images from inside the human body; and also deliver microscopic payloads to parts of the body which is outside the reach of current technologies.

For example, the robot is able to release a payload of microscopic glue onto a damaged brain artery. Usually this process is highly dangerous because these brain arteries are situated behind complicated sets of bend at the base of the skull. Only the most flexible catheters can possibly reach these places. To make matters worse, any puncture of these arteries will be fatal.

The robot is administered to the human body through a syringe and guided by remote control. Once it has completed its missions within the body, it can return to the point of entry and be extracted by a syringe.

The possible potential of this microbot extends to region of the body that current technology cannot reach. Patients with stroke, embolism and vascular-disease should, according to the scientist, be the first to benefit from this robot.

This microbot’s design is inspired by the E. coli bacterium, with flagella to propel it through the body. The initial materials used for the flagella are human hair, but later plans are directed towards using Kevlar.

The breakthrough in this robot is the propulsion system. Within the micromotor, Friend and his team are exploiting the use of piezoelectric materials– crystals that give off electric charges when mechanically stressed. These crystals vibrate a twisted micromechanism within the robot at ultrasonic frequencies. This process eventually leads to a rotor rotating and thus propelling the system.

Video of the actuator:

In the case the motor breaks down, the plan is to extract the robot at the entry point. Thus it needs to be inserted and controlled to swim upstream of the blood.

Currently the scientist are working at the micro device in charge of delivering the imaging and deliver the payloads. Scheduled for a completed version in 2009, there are already larger prototypes of the motor ready, which is about the size of a grain of sand.

Friend also needs the public’s help in naming the robot.

article at

Sim Jian Ping



  1. Just for interest, by looking at the structure of the robot, I find it hard to visualize how it is going to change directions. Especially when it eventually has to find the way back to the starting point to be extracted…lol. Might be easier to just guide it into the stomach…


  2. This is an amazing robot, being able to swim through arteries and digestive system and then fetching information out from our body. However, I believe some people would feel weird having a robot swimming inside their body, no matter how small it is, especially the older generation.

    Teo Hong Wee U036472X

  3. i’m a bit curious on how it is about to swim in either directions in the blood stream. Especially when the blood pressure of the heart arteries are very high. Wouldn’t the presence of valves poses a problem for the microscopic robot?

    Perhaps the robot could also be made to disintegrate after a given amount of time as lapse.

    Ong Mei Yee U036855H

  4. Meiyee, i think the robot is able to propel itself strong enough such that it can overcome the pressure. Regarding valves I guess we cant possibly take chances that the robot can swim fast enuf to escape the valves >< . So my guess is that the point of entry may very well allow the robot to travel without going through any valves. Sim Jian Ping

  5. Hong wee, I’m sure any kind of new technology will face its own kind of difficulties in gaining acceptance. especially one of such.. erm.. capabilities. =) But i certainly do hope that this robot is able to bring the current medical tech to a higher level and save more lives.

    Sim Jian Ping

  6. zhengyang,
    If i’m not wrong, the flagella concept involves rotating the ‘hairs’ at the bottom of the robot. I think the turbulent force is enough to drive this hair-width robot around the little blood stream. lol. There seems to be a general consensus to either digest or disintegrate this poor thing. hah
    Sim Jian Ping

  7. interesting…
    perhaps one day robots can also be used to remove undesirable substances deposited on the interior wall of blood vessels without any surgery. This may be very helpful for hpertension patients.

    Xue Chao

  8. Wow this is really a very interesting invention. This could bring some breakthroughs in biomedical field as such small robots could easily reach many inaccessible parts of our body. It can be used either to administer micro amount of drug to a particular organ or to function as a scope to take images. Perhaps this could be an alternative to larynoscopy, which is currently the scope doctors used to insert into our throats. These scopes could cause discomfort and might not be suitable for everyone. Hence, it would be great if we could use such miniature robot as alternative.

    Su Shiyan U036793W

  9. hey what if it ran out of power when it is swimming around in your body! how to extract it? then it will be a permenent part of your body liao la!!
    Quite dangerous leh!!

    U046232N Ang Rongjie

  10. Rong jie
    haha thanks for your concern. it really is quite scary if it were to happen. from the article that i read, the solution is to first plan to send the robot upstream of the bloodstream, then should really anything goes wrong, extract it as it flows downstream… still, i agree with u.. it is quite scary. =)
    Sim Jian Ping

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