Living micro-robot to detect diseases in humans

London: Scientists say they are developing a micro-robot that can function like a living creature to detect diseases in humans. An international team, including Newcastle University in the UK, says the micro-robot, "Cyberplasm", would combine advanced microelectronics with latest research in biomimicry – technology inspired by nature.

The aim is for Cyberplasm to have an electronic nervous system, "eye" and "nose" sensors derived from mammalian cells, as well as artificial muscles that use glucose as an energy source to propel it, say the scientists. Cyberplasm will be designed to mimic key functions of the sea lamprey, a creature found mainly in the Atlantic Ocean. It is believed this approach will enable the micro-robot to be extremely sensitive and responsive to the environment it is put into, according to the team.

Future uses could include the ability to swim unobtrusively through the human body to detect a whole range of diseases, the `ScienceDaily` reported. "Nothing matches a living creature`s natural ability to see and smell its environment and therefore to collect data on what`s going on around it," said bioengineer Dr Daniel Frankel of Newcastle University, who is leading the UK-based work.

Cyberplasm`s sensors are being developed to respond to external stimuli by converting them into electronic impulses that are sent to an electronic "brain" equipped with sophisticated microchips. This brain will then send electronic messages to artificial muscles telling them how to contract and relax, enabling the robot to navigate its way safely using an undulating motion, say the scientists.

Similarly, data on the chemical make-up of the robot`s surroundings can be collected and stored via these systems for later recovery by the robot`s operators. "We`re currently developing and testing Cyberplasm`s individual components. We hope to get to the assembly stage within a couple of years. We believe Cyberplasm could start being used in real-world situations within five years," Dr Frankel said in a release.