Meet MagnetoSperm: a tiny robot that can deliver drugs to any part of the body, because it swims just like sperm and reaching areas that were previously difficult to access. This is a major scientific development, regardless of its kind of icky name

Credit: I.S.M. Khalil/GUC & S. Misra/U.Twente

Research teams in Netherlands and Egypt have been working on MagnetoSperm for some time. The robots are seriously tiny: 422 micrometers. That's smaller than a dust mite. They have polymer bodies and cobalt-nickel heads, and they have the same shape as sperm.

The little robots navigate "using weak oscillating magnetic fields," which they can do thanks to their magnetic cobalt-nickel heads.  The sperm-like robot moves through blood vessels, everything from arteries to capillaries. These magnetic fields are quite weak, 5 milliTeslas, which is comparable to a fridge magnet. The head aligns itself with the magnetic field, then uses its flailing body to thrust along it. Basically, it wiggles really fast, steering using the magnetic field and its heads. It can move up to 160 micrometers per second.

Sarthak Misra, an associate professor of robotics and mechatronics at the University of Twente, said the robots can deliver a variety of things, ”These include targeted drug delivery, in vitro fertilization, cell sorting and cleaning of clogged arteries, among others.”

There are plans to make MagnetoSperm even smaller. Researchers want to equip them with nano-fibers which will work as flagella. They will also be testing different drug payloads for the robots, including the possibility of being used in chemotherapy.