Could swarms of microbots become part of our day-to-day lives?

The movie “Big Hero 6” introduces us to the world of “microbots,” or tiny magnet-based robots that can connect together to form any structure that the user can imagine.

The possibility of having swarms of tiny robots at our command, shaping themselves to meet our needs, has been portrayed in many science-fiction works. Indeed, advancements in the realm of robotics, and especially in nanotechnology, are inching us one step closer to that reality. For instance, current nanotechnology allows us to assemble pieces at very small scales (such as CPU manufacturing).

Although it is unlikely that robots based on current technology could create instant bridges or form protective shields (as shown in the film), it is likely that in 50 years’ time, swarms of micro and nanobots could be highly impactful for many different applications.

One of the most promising applications is in the field of medicine, where microbots could be used for targeted drug delivery, precision surgery, and even monitoring patient vitals from the inside. It’s not hard to imagine a world where a swarm of microbots could be injected into our bloodstream and dispatched to target and treat a tumor, all while leaving the surrounding healthy tissue untouched.

However, how soon can we expect to see such groundbreaking technology become a common part of our daily lives? Eduardo Castelló Ferrer, professor at IE School of Science & Technology, provides insight into this question: "Before this decade ends, we will start to see how microrobots, controlled by magnetic actuation, start to provide solutions in controlled lab experiments for important medical practices such as fertilization processes and drug delivery in oncological procedures.”

Nevertheless, the path to making this advanced concept a reality is a work in progress, and it depends on more than just technological breakthroughs. It also requires tackling real-world issues, ensuring affordability, and securing the acceptance of healthcare regulators to adopt these novel methods in the highly controlled medical industry.

As the world continues to evolve, swarms of microbots may soon be more than just a work of science fiction, and the future promises a new era of personalized medical procedures that could revolutionize the way we interact with technology and with our own bodies.