Try to imagine designing a robot the size of the circle placed above. To put it simply, building a complete sub-mm robotic system capable of sensing, actuation and computation in an autonomous manner creates challenges which are several orders of magnitude greater than the envisioned robot size. Not to mention energy issues when the smallest batteries in the world are around 10 times bigger than the desired robot.
At the root of BioMicroRobotics, Nelson has taken the leap from imagination to reality with his microrobot for retinal surgery. Pushing the principle of "embodiment" to the extreme, he's by embedding the intelligence of his robot within their physical body. In the end, their shape, material and physical properties allow them to interact with the environment and subsequently harvest energy, perform sensing, and navigate through the human body.
Using similar principles, Nelson's lab won the 2007 RoboCup Nanogram Competition, the first year the event was held. The goal was to use autonomous microrobots smaller than 300μm to perform a series of soccer related tasks (a video of a microrobot dribbling a gold disk can be seen below).
So, just how far are we from the movie "Fantastic Voyage" and its miniature submarine and on-board crew, shrunken to microscopic size to navigate the blood stream of an endangered diplomat?