Cyberplasm: Meet the microbot that can detect disease from inside the human body

Cyberplasm: Meet the microbot that can detect disease from inside the human body
Newcastle University researchers are developing a tiny bio-inspired robot that could one day be used to safely pinpoint diseases from inside the human body.

Called Cyberplasm, the device is expected to measure just 1cm long and have an electronic nervous system, eye and nose sensors derived from manmalian cells and artificial muscles that use glucose as an energy source to propel it.

The researchers are also hoping to engineer and integrate robotic components that can respond to light and chemicals in the same way as biological systems.

According to lead researcher Dr Daniel Frankel, of Newcastle University, Cyberplasm is being designed to mimic key functions of the sea lamprey, a creature found mainly in the Atlantic Ocean. It is believed this approach will enable the micro robot to be extremely sensitive and responsive to the environment it is put into.

"Nothing matches a living creature's natural ability to see and smell its environment and therefore to collect data on what's going on around it," Dr Frankel noted.

Cyberplasm's sensors are being developed to respond to external stimuli by converting them into electronic impulses that are sent to an electronic 'brain' equipped with sophisticated microchips.

This brain will then send electronic messages to artificial muscles telling them how to contract and relax, enabling the robot to navigate its way safely using an undulating motion.

Similarly, the researchers are looking at how data on the chemical make-up of the robot's surroundings can be collected and stored via these systems for later recovery by the robot's operators.

Frankel believes Cyberplasm could in the short term offer significant advances in the field of prosthetics, where living muscle tissue might be engineered to contract and relax in response to stimulation from light waves or electronic signals.

In the future, however, he sees the device being able to swim unobtrusively through the human body to detect a whole range of diseases.

"We're currently developing and testing Cyberplasm's individual components," Frankel concluded. "We hope to get to the assembly stage within a couple of years. We believe Cyberplasm could start being used in real world situations within five years".

Thw research is being funded by the EPSRC and the National Science Foundation.

Laura Hopperton

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