Scale-covered, pangolin-inspired robot to work inside the body

5 July 2023
The scaly anteater, also known as the pangolin, is one of the longest-lived creatures on the planet. The oldest fossil find is about 47 million years old. Experts at MPI-IS took this very animal as a model for the tool they were designing, a robot – despite the hard scales with which a pangolin's body is covered, the whole structure remains extremely flexible. This is very important because its main task is therapy using heat. Research published in the Nature Communications journal describes a prototype device. It consists of two magnetic layers attached to a soft polymer shell covered with a layer of "armor" made of metal elements, which, like the shell armor, are stacked on each other. So although the robot is made of hard parts, it remains soft and flexible.

How does it work?

The pangolin robot is controlled by the different frequencies of a magnetic field, with the help of which it can be rolled up and moved around in the human body. For example, in a spherical form, it can be transported to a selected area of the body to release a dose of medicine there. If the robot is exposed to a high-frequency magnetic field, the metal heats up to more than 70°C. This feature has many potential applications: dissolving blood clots, stopping bleeding, or destroying cancer cells. Although it is only a prototype so far, scientists hope that in the future, the robot will be able to travel inside the body, initially through the digestive system, to make minor repairs. Engineers have been trying for years to reconcile the robot's flexibility with hard components that can be heated to high temperatures without the fear of melting. Such a robot also cannot have any sharp surfaces so as not to damage internal organs or contain electrical components that could be damaged, making it difficult to remove the robot from the body once the task is complete. Read the research paper "Pangolin-inspired untethered magnetic robot for on-demand biomedical heating applications."