ETH develops precision arm for mini robots

13 January 2023 10:36

Zurich CCGreater Zurich

Zurich - Researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich have developed a glass needle that can be attached to microscopically small robots used in the area of laboratory diagnostics. It can be oscillated by way of ultrasound and used to mix minute volumes of fluids.

Researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) have come up with a way of equipping tiny robotics systems with arms. They have developed a glass needle that can be oscillated using ultrasound and manipulated in targeted fashion. With this needle, the robot is able, for example, to mix tiny droplets of highly viscous liquids, pump liquids through a mini-channel system and trap fine particles.

Robotics systems of microscopic size are, for example, used for lab applications, as ETH Zurich explains in a press release. They are known as microfluidics or lab-on-a-chip. Until now, it has not been possible to attach an arm to a system of this kind. Instead, external pumps were used that moved liquid through microfluidic chips. According to ETH Zurich, the chips are still difficult to automate today, meaning that they have to be developed and manufactured specifically for each application.

The robot arm is now set to change all this. “Mixing and pumping liquids and trapping particles – we can do it all with one device”, explains Professor Daniel Ahmed from ETH Zurich in the press release. In the future, microfluidic chips will therefore no longer have to be specially developed for each individual application. Moreover, the areas of application of such mini robot arms extend far beyond laboratory analysis. According to ETH Zurich, they could also be used in biotechnology and 3D printing, for example

In a next step, the researchers are planning to combine several glass needles and carry out more complex tasks in this way. ssp

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