Posted on Mar 26, 2015, 6 a.m.
“Soft robotics” are biodegradable, miniaturized surgical tools that can safely dissolve in the body, after completing a diagnostic or delivering targeted drug therapy.
Surpassing current bulky technologies, the next generation of medical robotics are smaller, flexible, and self-powered The latest innovation in the field of 'soft robotics' is a flexible, microscopic hand-like gripper. David H. Gracias, from Johns Hopkins University (Maryland, USA), and colleagues are exploring nimble robotic hands featuring hydrogels – soft materials can swell in response to changes in temperature, acidity or light, providing energy to carry out tasks without being tethered to a power source. However, hydrogels are too floppy for some applications, so the researchers combined the hydrogels with a stiff biodegradable polymer, making the microhands strong enough to wrap around and remove cells. The team then incorporated magnetic nanoparticles in the materials so they could guide the microhands with a magnetic probe. The team concluded that this added trait could help in the microassembly or microengineering of soft or biological parts, or give surgeons the ability to remotely direct where biopsies are taken. Suggesting that the use of soft materials highlights the possibility of creating biodegradable, miniaturized surgical tools that can safely dissolve in the body, the study authors report that: “operation and functionality of these polymeric microgrippers for soft robotic and surgical applications.”
Breger JC, Yoon C, Xiao R, Kwag HR, Wang MO, Fisher JP, Nguyen TD, Gracias DH. “Self-folding thermo-magnetically responsive soft microgrippers.” ACS Appl Mater Interfaces. 2015 Feb 11;7(5):3398-405.