I first saw this story on the “Life’s Little Mysteries” website (part of the LiveScience family of blogs & news outlets).
Engineers Wenqi Hu, Kelly S. Ishii, and Aaron T. Ohta at the University of Hawaii at Manoa have created tiny robots made of bubbles powered by lasers. They presented their study, “Cooperative Micromanipulation Using Optically Controlled Bubble Microrobots,” last week at the 2012 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation.
What’s the point, you ask? According to the engineers at the UH-COE (College of Engineering), the bubble microrobot, which can be controlled by patterns of light, can “move around objects that are less than a millimeter in size” and therefore could be used to assemble micro-objects, including “structures made up of living cells.”
Discovery News published a similar story on 22 May, noting that “Eventually, it may be possible to conjure swarms of microscopic bubble robots out of nothing, set them to work building microstructures with an array of thermal lasers, and then when they’re finished, give each one a little pop to wipe it completely out of existence without any mess or fuss.”
What do I think about it? Well, combined with other news coming out of the IEEE meeting, I’m wondering if we’ll soon see the development not just of “robot fingers” but maybe even new ones, built by these little bots. Or we could be looking at a new medium for micro and laser surgery. Just think: small tumors could be packed up and removed by these little beasties. Very futuristic, I know. But then, so was the laser, once upon a time.