Our eyeballs are some of our more delicate organs, and the mere thought of them having to be sliced open for surgery is unsettling. So researchers at the Multi-Scale Robotics Lab at ETH Zurich have created a magnetically-guided microbot, barely larger than a few human hairs, that can be embedded in the eye and externally controlled to perform delicate surgery without any part of the patient having to be sliced open.

How small a self-propelled autonomous micro robot can be is limited by current technologies, but the researchers found a way around this. By eliminating the need for motors and other propulsion systems through an external magnetic control system called the OctoMag, a microrobot was developed that can be injected into the eye with a thin needle.

The idea is still a bit unsettling, admittedly, but by using a series of electromagnetic coils positioned outside the eye, the microbot can be guided and controlled with remarkable precision, allowing even delicate surgeries to be completed without having to open the eyeball. And keeping these procedures and surgeries minimally invasive allows for faster recovery times, and reduces the risk of complications.

The OctoMag system has already been successfully tested navigating the microbot through the eye of a rabbit, and moving forward it could one day make eye surgery for humans as non-invasive as getting an eye exam. [The Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems via Robohub via Slashdot]