You’ve all seen the movie Fantastic Voyage, I assume. While piloting a ship that’s been shrunk to the size of a red blood cell is indeed fantastic, Stanford School of Engineering Assistant Professor Ada Poon recently demonstrated a wirelessly controlled, self propelled device that could navigate inside your blood stream.
The research, announced at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC), completely upended 50 years of scientific belief. Energy was always the biggest stumbling block for miniature devices--batteries always take up most of the mass of the device, and they need to be replaced, charged, and so forth. Poon’s devices get their power via radio waves, which is the breakthrough researchers needed in order to pierce the human body in this fashion.
The transmitter and the antenna connect magnetically, so any change in current flow from the transmitter produces voltage in the coiled-wire receiver, which powers the device. It’s ingenious.
The reason this discovery is a breakthrough is that science has thought for the past 50 years that high-frequency signals couldn’t penetrate the interior of the body and were ineffective in the task of powering or controlling a remote device. Poon re-did the research, assuming that human tissue was an insulator rather than just a good conductor, and she was right.
With two prototype devices in the wings and the science of it just developing, high-frequency radio controls and power for microscopic devices will quite literally be the wave of the future. Imagine a world where you go to the doctor not for many kinds of surgery, but for a doctor to guide a remote robotic device to the trouble area and administer medicine directly or perform a simple operation--from the inside.
The future’s here, and it’s now.
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