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Roboticists Find Inspiration in Starfish Larva

bio-inspired microrobot

The microrobot's ciliary band oscillations produce complex flow profiles similar to those of its biological counterpart.

Credit: ETH Zurich

Researchers at ETH Zürich have developed a tiny robot that mimics the movement of a starfish larva. It is driven by sound waves and equipped with tiny hairs that oscillate to affect propulsion, just like its natural model. Microbots are made to swim through the body and in the future could deliver medication to specific areas and perform the smallest surgical procedures.

Starfish larva use ciliary bands on their surface to swim and feed. The researchers used photolithography to construct a microrobot with inclined ciliary bands, then applied ultrasound waves from an external source to make the cilia oscillate. The beating cilia can be used to generate a vortex with a suction effect at the front and a vortex with a thrust effect at the rear, the combined effect "rocketing" the robot forward.

The work is described in "Ultrasound-Activated Ciliary Bands for Microrobotic Systems Inspired by Starfish," published in the journal Nature Communications.

Daniel Ahmed, a professor with the Multi-Scale Robotics Lab at ETH Zürich, believes microrobot will be ready for use in medicine in the foreseeable future. The system relies on ultrasound waves which are already widely used in imaging, penetrate deep inside the body, and pose no health risks.

From ETH Zürich
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