Robotic ant research offers bold new applications

Technology |  < 1 min. read

Ants at a picnic?  Yuck.  Ants in the house?  Double yuck.  A massive column of army ants?  Run!

You get the picture.  News about ants is not usually good news.

So here’s an exception, sort of.  Because these good “ants” are actually ant-sized, though they don’t really look like ants.

They have a little 3D-printed polymer (an acrylic, like Lucite, made from the petrochemical benzene) body, four or six VERY little legs, and a little bit of hardware on top called a “piezoelectric actuator”.

Send an electrical signal to these little robots, and the actuator turns that electricity into vibration, which the legs turn into motion — and off they go.

The team at Georgia Tech that invented these, has lots of potential uses for them — but here’s the coolest (and maybe the most important someday):  sending a swarm of these little devices, not into your picnic or your house — but into your body, to repair an injury.

Now if you’re a science-fiction fan, that might sound familiar — because it is.  In Fantastic Voyage, a team of humans and a submarine are miniaturized and sent into a scientist’s body to repair an otherwise inoperable blood clot.

In addition to the fact, that this was science fiction — the miniaturization only lasted for an hour, so if the crew (and submarine) didn’t get out in time — well, it wasn’t good.  But these “doctor” robots would start small, and stay small — so they can take all the time they need to get the job done right.

That is, at some point in the future.  Right now these ant robots are still in the jumping-around-the-table stage…

…but this could be the start of something remarkable to come for medicine.