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Could injectable microrobots one day run in your veins?

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The robots, seen here in a computer generated image, are around the width of a human hair (AFP)

Scientists have created an army of microscopic four-legged robots too small to see with the naked eye that walk when stimulated by a laser and could be injected into the body through hypodermic needles, a study said Wednesday.

Microscopic robotics are seen as having an array of potential uses, particularly in medicine, and US researchers said the new robots offer “the potential to explore biological environments”.

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One of the main challenges in the development of these cell-sized robots has been combining control circuitry and moving parts in such a small structure.

The robots described in the journal Nature are less than 0.1 millimeter wide — around the width of a human hair — and have four legs that are powered by on-board solar cells.

By shooting laser light into these solar cells, researchers were able to trigger the legs to move, causing the robot to walk around.

The study’s co-author Marc Miskin, of the University of Pennsylvania, told AFP that a key innovation of the research was that the legs — its actuators — could be controlled using silicon electronics.

“Fifty years of shrinking down electronics has led to some remarkably tiny technologies: you can build sensors, computers, memory, all in very small spaces,” he said. “But, if you want a robot, you need actuators, parts that move.”

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‘Figuring out what’s possible’

The researchers acknowledged that their creations are currently slower than other microbots that “swim”, less easy to control than those guided by magnets, and do not sense their environment.

The robots are prototypes that demonstrate the possibility of integrating electronics with the parts that help the device move around, Miskin said, adding they expect the technology to develop quickly.

“The next step is to build sophisticated circuitry: can we build robots that sense their environment and respond? How about tiny programmable machines? Can we make them able to run without human intervention?”

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Miskin said he envisions biomedical uses for the robots, or applications in materials science, such as repairing materials at the microscale.

“But this is a very new idea and we’re still trying to figure out what’s possible,” he added.

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‘Swallow the surgeon’

Researchers said that they were able to produce the components for the robots in parallel, meaning they could make more than one million of them in each four-inch wafer of silicon.

The legs were made from nanometre-thick platinum that bends when stimulated by laser light, creating the walking motion.

Their average speed was about one body length per minute, the study said, adding this was “comparable to crawling biological microorganisms”.

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The robots can survive highly acidic environments and temperature variations of more than 200 degrees Kelvin (-73 degrees Celsius), the study said.

In a commentary also published in Nature, Allan Brooks and Michael Strano of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said the concept of robots small enough to travel through blood vessels had been around since Nobel laureate Richard Feynman talked about the potential to “swallow the surgeon” in 1959.

They said the new study provides “a clear vision” for solving the challenge of creating a tiny robot that can both convert energy into motion and is able to be programmable.

“The authors’ robots, although not autonomous in their current form, can be seen as a platform to which ‘brains’ and a battery can be attached,” they said, predicting the “hurdle of developing autonomous programmability for microrobots will soon be overcome”.

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2020 Election

Morning Joe destroys your Facebook friends’ excuses for voting for Trump

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MSNBC's Joe Scarborough said most of the people he grew up hate President Donald Trump, but they're voting for him anyway.

The "Morning Joe" host said they share many of his concerns about the president and his fitness for office, but he said they always offer excuses for holding their nose and voting to give him four more years.

"It's good talking to them and just saying, so why are you voting for this man?" Scarborough said. "'Well, he's a terrible guy, he's a horrible example for my kids, I'd never invite him over to the house, he's despicable -- I hate him, I just hate him,' but and then, fill in the blank, AOC or Nancy Pelosi or Bernie Sanders or regulations or tax cuts or 401(k)s, and I say, so, well, we have right now a president of the United States who is demanding that his attorney general arrest the former vice president of the United States, his chief political competitor. This is something that happens or happened in the former Soviet Union, this is something that happens still in Russia."

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2020 Election

Trump ‘is hemorrhaging support’ and is flailing badly to win it back: reporter

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President Donald Trump is trailing Democratic rival Joe Biden in the polls, and one veteran journalist said that he seems clueless about how to stop the bleeding.

Journalist Alex Wagner, the host of Showtime's "The Circus," told CNN on Wednesday that President Donald Trump's flailing attacks on Dr. Anthony Fauci and "60 Minutes'" Lesley Stahl are not part of some grand strategy to stage a comeback in the 2020 presidential election.

"The idea that President Trump has somehow hatched a multi-pronged plan to make a closing argument in the last remaining days of the election is a fallacy," she said. "He is hemorrhaging support among suburban women and seniors, and what is he doing? Taking on a fight with the elder statesmen of the most venerable news brand in America. She is an older woman at precisely the time he needs to be getting women and seniors."

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Progressives unite for last-ditch effort to delay Amy Coney Barrett vote — by impeaching Bill Barr

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Progressive activists are urging House Democrats to essentially kill two birds with one stone by impeaching Attorney General Bill Barr -- which would delay the confirmation vote for Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

"Attorney General Barr has acted to subvert the laws that he, as our nation's chief federal law enforcement official, is duty-bound to uphold," more than 20 progressive groups signed in a joint letter.

"Attorney General Barr has made a career out of undermining our democracy and it is pellucidly clear that he has been ramping up efforts to undermine the upcoming elections and invalidate the votes of millions of Americans," the groups wrote.

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