Those of you not concerned with the inevitable robot uprising might be excited to learn that a team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Dental Medicine and School of Engineering and Applied Science have demonstrated, in a proof-of-concept study, that a shapeshifting robotic microswarm can be used to automate the treatment and removal of decay-causing bacteria and dental plaque.
The multidisciplinary team, with support from the National Institutes of Health, used the magnetic properties of iron oxide nanoparticles, their microrobot building blocks, to form bristle-like structures (for brushing) and string-like structures (for flossing). They also employed a catalytic reaction to drive the nanoparticles to produce antimicrobials that killed harmful bacteria during the process. The technology has been tested in various models, has been shown not to harm animal gum tissue, and the iron oxide nanoparticles themselves have already received FDA approval for other uses. The team is now working on ways to put the microrobots to work with mouth-fitting devices and hopes the technology can help individuals for whom routine oral care is difficult, e.g., persons with disabilities, achieve better oral health.
There is no timeline for full-scale world-wide microrobot deployment, but we’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, those of you who are concerned with “robopocalypse”, might find some comfort in knowing that the microrobots will probably be programmed with Isaac Asimov’s First Law of Robotics – “a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” Probably.