Floating magnetic microrobots based on optical fiber technology

Minimally invasive surgery finds its popularity more and more to target small lesions resulting in high demand for miniaturized medical devices (microcatheters, articulated micro-forceps or tweezers). Although the precise integration and operation of chemical and physical optical sensors still present numerous challenges, optical fiber technology makes a great contribution to the potential solution to the problem. Thus, a team of researchers from China has developed a novel microrobotic platform to functionalize optical fibers varying from 140 to 830 micrometers (µm).

To be more precise, the researchers bring microbots into the line to floating electronic circuits on an optical fiber applying a wet transfer technique. The fiber optic system is based on the use of a permanent magnet to control the process, containing activities of the microrobots through surface tension for detailed performance validation. The optical fiber system has been already tested using a 200 µm diameter optical fiber and 3D devices.

The application of robotic devices based on optical fiber technology to create fiberbots enables researchers to assemble imaging, sensing, and micromanipulation within a single optical fiber. A method of two-photon polymerization makes it possible to install complex microgrippers right on the tip of an optical fiber. Herewith, researchers can produce microactuation in the fiber optic system employing “hydraulic links that leverage microcapillary function to use the fiber optic device for targeted drug delivery and focused energy such as laser ablation”. 

It should be noted that optical fibers are considered to be a versatile device to design flexible microtools. The surfaces of fiber optic technology offer an ideal location to embody numerous fiber sensors along its length. Finally, the researchers have succeeded in the performed wet transfer of the floating pattern onto an optical fiber. They also transfer arbitrary gold patterns (electrodes or strain gauges) onto the fiber.

Additionally, the microrobot-assisted wet transfer technique based on optical fiber technology was optimized by researchers to be implemented in various medical devices. Therefore, new fiber optic devices are developed by transferring optical fibers with patterns onto a printed circuit board resulting in realized electrical connections. The developed fiber optic system can be potentially used in microcatheters and other implantable devices. 

The presented optical fiber technology is regarded as a very advanced technique that will allow forming sophisticated electromechanical devices at the microscale employing hybrid microfabrication methods with broad applications during accurate clinical biomarker detection and precision surgery.

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