Miniature robots that imitate microscopic organisms could one day wriggle inside the human body to solve problems, researchers say. The soft, active materials comprising these machines might also lead to clothing that enhances muscle power.
Modern robots are generally built from rigid parts, which causes them to be vulnerable to damage from bumps, scrapes, twists and falls, and often makes it impossible to wriggle past obstacles. But researchers inspired by octopuses, worms and starfish that thrive despite not having hard skeletons are devising flexible robots from soft, elastic plastic and rubber. These can squirm under obstacles, lift up to 120 times their own weight and change their color to hide in or stand out from their surroundings.
As the work behind soft robots gets more mature, some engineers are also starting to explore the possibility of making them smaller. The hope is that such microrobots could play a role in healthcare — for instance, delivering medicine directly to where the body needs it, reopening clogged blood vessels or helping to seal wounds.
For crime victims in the Kenyan town of Lamet Umoja, where before there was silence, now there is Twitter.
The village’s police chief, Francis Kariuki, realized some time ago that he could use the microblogging site as an instant way to blast critical messages to citizens. He posts information about child abductions, stolen livestock and active criminal activity as he gets it. As this story was being written, for example, he sent out the description of a man who went missing midday on Dec. 10. “Disappeared from home at around 1pm. If seen around please inform me,” he tweeted.
Kariuki’s efforts are just one example of the rapidly expanding adoption of mobile communication and information technologies to overcome stubborn governance problems across Sub-Saharan Africa. Officials, members of civil society and ordinary citizens are being motivated to deploy these tactics as workarounds for a lack of basic government services and infrastructure.