cellular microbotsLast week I wrote about research being done at Harvard to develop micro-scale soft robots. Well, just down the street from Harvard, MIT is working to develop robots that are the size of a single cell. But more than an advancement in robotics, the MIT effort is being touted as a breakthrough method of manufacturing cell-sized electronic devices quickly and by the millions.

Referred to as “autoperforation”, engineers are able to use the brittleness of certain materials in a controlled way such that the cracking of the material yields the device they’ve designed for. The process involves laying down a single layer of graphene, depositing onto it micro dots of a polymer that contain the electronics, then laying down a second layer of graphene on top. Where the layers of graphene drape over the edges of the polymer dots, lines of high stress are created. The graphene fractures around the periphery of the polymer dots, creating the individual devices.

This technology is very new, and of course it will be awhile before it can be developed to the level that it can be practically applied. But it does prove the feasibility of building tiny microbots that could be injected into the bloodstream and controlled to perform all kinds of monitoring and therapeutic activities, and who knows what else.