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Prof. Bradley J. Nelson, ETH Zurich
Brad Nelson received mechanical engineering degrees from the University of Illinois (B.S. 1984) and the University of Minnesota (M.S. 1987), and a Ph.D. in Robotics (School of Computer Science) from Carnegie Mellon University (1995). Prof. Nelson has been on the faculty of the University of Minnesota and the University of Illinois at Chicago, has worked at Motorola and Honeywell, and has served as a United States Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana, Africa. He is the Professor of Robotics and Intelligent Systems at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich and heads the Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems (IRIS).

Contact: 

Prof. Dr. Bradley J. Nelson
ETH Zurich
+41 44 632 55 29
bnelson@ethz.ch 

 

Magnetic navigation of flexible access robots
We are developing a variety of technologies based on microrobotics for applications ranging from targeted therapies for the retina, for individual cells, and for cardiac ablation, as well as micromanipulation for industrial automation. A key aspect of the approaches entails the use of externally generated magnetic fields and field gradients to precisely control the motion of these devices. As we move towards the nanoscale, motion strategies inspired by bacterial motors are used. 
 
The futuristic vision of micro and nanorobotics is of intelligent machines that navigate throughout our bodies searching for and destroying disease, but we have a long way to go to get there. Progress is being made, though, and the past decade has seen impressive advances in the fabrication, powering, and control of tiny motile devices. Much of our work focuses on creating systems for controlling micro and nanorobots in liquid as well as pursuing applications of these devices. Larger scale microrobots for delivering drugs to the retina to treat eye diseases such as age related macular degeneration and retinal vein and artery occlusion are moving towards clinical trials. As size decreases to the nanoscale, we have been inspired by motile bacteria, such as E. coli, and have developed nanorobots that swim with a similar technique. Applications we pursue at these scales are for the treatment of breast cancer and cerebral infarctions. 

The potential impact of this technology on society is high, particularly for biomedical applications, though many challenges remain in developing micro and nano robots that will be useful to society. An overarching requirement for achieving breakthroughs in this area is the need to bring together expertise from a wide variety of science and engineering disciplines. Robotics brings expertise in the planning and control of mechanisms with many degrees of freedom in uncertain environments. Nanotechnology teaches innovative approaches to fabricating nanoscale machines. In addition, biomedical imaging advances are needed, as is fundamental insight into the nature of fluid dynamics at very small scales. Medical professionals must be tightly integrated into the development cycle, and experts in developing business models and intellectual property must be closely consulted. 

As systems such as these enter clinical trials, and as commercial applications of this new technology are realized, radically new therapies and uses will result that have yet to be envisioned. 

  

Relevant publications
[1] T. Petit, L. Zhang, K. E. Peyer, B.E. Kratochvil, B.J. Nelson, “Selective Trapping and Manipulation of Microscale Objects Using Mobile Microvortices,” Nano Letters, Vol. 12, January 2012, 156-160.
 
[2] O. Ergeneman, J. Pokki, V. Počepcová, H. Hall, J. J. Abbott, B. J. Nelson, "Characterization of Puncture Forces for Retinal Vein Cannulation", Journal of Medical Devices, Vol. 5, No. 4, December 2011.

3] S. Tottori, L. Zhang, F. Qiu, K. Krawczyk, A. Franco-Obregón, B. J. Nelson, "Magnetic Helical Micromachines: Fabrication, Controlled Swimming, and Cargo Transport", Advanced Materials, November 2011.

[4] M. Kummer, J.J. Abbott, B.E. Kratochvil, R. Borer, A. Sengul, B.J. Nelson, “OctoMag: An Electromagnetic System for 5-DOF Wireless Micromanipulation,” IEEE Trans. on Rob., Vol. 26, No. 6, September 2010, 1006-1017.

[5] B.J. Nelson, I.K. Kaliakatsos, J.J. Abbott, “Microrobots for Minimally Invasive Medicine,” Annual Review of Biomedical Engineering, Vol. 12, June 2010, 55-85.