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Inside Job

The smallest remote-controlled walking robot with a host of potential applications

28 June 2022

Inside Job

Minuscule robots travelling along our arteries to transport drugs or fix blockages from the inside might seem like science-fiction, but progress in miniature robotics is making it increasingly plausible. Pictured on the edge of a coin, this tiny crab is the world’s smallest remote-controlled walking robot, only half a millimetre wide. Inspired by pop-up books, the robot is made from a sophisticated layered plastic sheet, cut and bent into a 3D form. Over the legs is a metal alloy, which springs back into shape when heated; precisely heating the legs with a laser beam flips them between folded and flat positions, causing the crab to quickly scuttle along in specific directions. Still a long way from versions capable of swimming in the bloodstream, more immediately achievable goals include incorporating electronic circuits, and using the robots to repair machinery in cramped spaces – small (sideways) steps towards a new form of medicine.

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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