Scientists from Israel's Technion University have unveiled a tiny robot, made using Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) technology, purportedly able to crawl through a person's veins in order to diagnose and potentially treat artery blockage and cancer.
The little robot - with a diameter of just one millimeter - has neither engine nor onboard controls, instead being propelled forward by a magnetic field wielded on it from outside the patient's body.
Controlling the tiny bot externally means boffins have been able to shrink it to a previously impossibly tiny scale, allowing it to crawl its way through the typical human body's veins and arteries using miniscule outstretched arms which grip the vessel walls. Yes, that made us shudder too.
Scientists reckon the mini bot can even withstand massive blood flow and is able to push forward regardless of the magnetic field actuation direction, doing away with any need for exact localisation and direction retrieval.
A controller can move the little crawly creature in increments, with its speed of up to nine millimeters a second regulated by varying external magnetic field frequencies. Outside control also means the robot can be made to work for an unlimited amount of time, rather than suddenly - not to mention inconveniently - keeling over to die of battery failure in the middle of a medical procedure.
A small cross sectional area on the tiny robot apparently allows fluids to flow with minimal interference making intra-vascular motion more feasible, and opening up the possibility of minimally invasive medical treatments, as well as diagnosis within the body. Researchers are also apparently toying with the idea of attaching miniscule cameras to the bot, as well as other "tools" it may need to perform internal surgery.
As if getting under people's skin wasn't enough, Technion researchers say they're also looking at putting the ant-like creature to work in urban water distribution systems, to look for any leaks that need plugging.
We hear that research is going swimmingly.