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Microbot Motors Open New Possibilities For Surgeons

January 20, 2009

In the future, surgeons may be aided by the use of micro-motors to perform a range of minimally invasive procedures, researchers reported on Tuesday.

Previously, researchers have had no way of powering tiny robots through the human bloodstream. Now, researchers at the Micro/Nanophysics Research Laboratory at Australia’s Monash University have reported that they are finalizing a project that will produce microbot motors just 250 micrometers, a quarter of a millimeter, wide.

These motors will give the microbots a way to move throughout the human body to perform surgical procedures that call for a much smaller approach, for example operations necessary to treat stroke victims, confront hardened arteries or address blockages in the bloodstream.

Catheters have previously been unable to help in certain procedures. However, the development of miniature remote controlled robots could allow doctors to see and work remotely on the affected artery.

“If you pick up an electronics catalogue, you’ll find all sorts of sensors, LEDs, memory chips, etc that represent the latest in technology and miniaturization. Take a look however at the motors and there are few changes from the motors available in the 1950s,” said Professor James Friend, who led the team of researchers at Monash University.

Researchers used piezoelectric materials – crystals that expand and contract when a voltage is applied to them ““ to make “linear motors,” according to BBC News. Piezoelectricity is commonly found in quartz watches. However, doctors also needed the micro-meters to have the ability to rotate rather than only move back and forth.

That is accomplished by coupling the motors to a structure with a helix-shaped cut in it. Because the structure is held in place along the helical groove, a push at one end is turned into a rotation, said BBC.

Professor Friend said his team’s research has great implications for the use of micro-motors.

“Opportunities for micro-motors abound in fields as diverse as biomedicine, electronics, aeronautics and the automotive industry,” said Friend.

“Responses to this need have been just as diverse, with designs developed using electromagnetic, electrostatic, thermal and osmotic driving forces. Piezoelectric designs however have favorable scaling characteristics and, in general, are simple designs, which have provided an excellent platform for the development of micro-motors.”

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