- There was little association between miniature systems and robots. Miniature systems transport minuscule amounts of liquid through fine capillaries.
- Such systems are known as microfluidics or lab-on-a-chip and generally, use external pumps to move the liquid through the chips.
- It has been difficult to automate, and the chips have to be custom designed and manufactured for each application.
Researchers at ETH led by Professor Daniel Ahmed are now developing a device that combines conventional robotics and microfluidics. The device uses ultrasound and can be attached to a robotic arm.
The device is perfect for performing a wide range of tasks in micro-robotic and microfluidic applications and can also be used to automate such applications.
Ultrasound Needle Oscillations
The device has a thin, pointed glass needle to create a three-dimensional pattern of multiple vortices in a liquid. By varying the oscillation frequency of the needle, the researchers can control the pattern and use it to mix tiny droplets of highly viscous liquids, pump fluids through a mini-channel system by creating a specific pattern of vortices and placing the oscillating glass needle close to the channel wall, and trap fine particles in the fluid.
This technology brings advancements in conventional robotics and microfluidic applications together, which means that future microfluidic systems can be designed similarly to today’s robotic systems and handle multiple tasks with one device. Possible applications for this technology include laboratory analysis, sorting tiny objects, and biotechnology, among others.
What Researchers Say
The researchers demonstrated how this method could capture inanimate particles and fish embryos. They believe it should also be able to capture biological cells in the fluid. Daniel Ahmed says that manipulating microscopic particles in three dimensions was always challenging in the past. The micro robotic arm developed by them makes it easy.
In addition to laboratory analysis, Ahmed can envisage other applications for micro-robotic arms, like sorting tiny objects. The arms could also be used in biotechnology to introduce DNA into individual cells. Ultimately, there is a possibility to employ them in additive manufacturing and 3D printing.