Nanobots can now swarm like fish to perform complex medical tasks

Researchers have developed a new method to control nanobots -- inside the human body.

Jennifer Bisset Former Senior Editor / Culture
Jennifer Bisset was a senior editor for CNET. She covered film and TV news and reviews. The movie that inspired her to want a career in film is Lost in Translation. She won Best New Journalist in 2019 at the Australian IT Journalism Awards.
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Jennifer Bisset
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Nanobots: robots on a nano scale.

Human Paragon

The future is amazing.

A new way of using nanorobots has been discovered thanks to the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), a method that could help surgeons perform complex medical tasks.

The research, announced Thursday, is led by associate professor Zhang Li at the university's Department of Mechanical and Automation Engineering. Inspired by flocks of birds and schools of fish, Zhang's team used a magnetic field to control the nanobots' movements and implement swarm behaviours. You can see them in action in the video below:

Making a microscopic swarm move through a maze

This magnetic ‘microswarm' makes manouvering around a maze look… mostly manageable, despite being made of millions of individual nanoparticles.

Posted by Nature News and Comment on Saturday, August 25, 2018

The nanobots, millions of magnetic nanoparticles, can change their form to whatever environment they're interacting with. They can reportedly extend, shrink, split and merge, in their swarm.

"The most creative and difficult part in our work is to find a proper actuation method to realize the highly reconfigurable swarm at the microscale," Zhang told CNET in an email.

The method could be used by surgeons to send the nanobots through hard-to-navigate spaces, the researchers say. They could also reportedly be used for targeted drug delivery, cancer therapies and eye surgeries.

"In near future, I envision that the magnetic microswarm technique may offer new opportunity for recanalization of occlusion in vascular systems, such as stroke," Zhang wrote. "Besides, other kinds of potential applications are expected, such as maskless surface patterning for microfabrication and localized fluidic manipulation for microfluidic systems."

The team has begun conducting animal tests for the process in collaboration with the Prince of Wales Hospital in Shatin at CUHK.

I repeat, the future is amazing.

The team's findings have been published in Nature Communcations.

First published Aug. 30, 9:50 p.m. PT.

Update, Sept. 2 at 6:30 p.m.: Adds comment from Zhang.

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