London, April 18 : Canadian researchers have developed a pair of tiny robotic tweezers that can help pick up and move individual cells without causing any damage to them.
Experts at the University of Toronto believe that their robotic gripper may be very significant to the field of tissue engineering.
It may also be helpful in making microscale and nanoscale devices, they say.
University researcher Yu Sun said that the new grippers could exert as little as 20 nanoNewtons of force, and were the first to be able to feel the strength of their grip on very delicate objects.
"We're applying very well-known concepts from robotics down to the micrometre scale," New Scientist magazine quoted Sun as saying.
The researcher further said that previous pincers were not as promising as their new device.
"You would break the objects being manipulated, or break the microgrippers," Sun said.
Besides being the first to feel the strength of their grip, the robotic tweezers are also able to feel the touch of a surface.
Sun says that this ability enabled them to sense when they have run into things, and thus helps them get close to cells and other objects without damaging collisions.
The researchers used their innovation to pick up and move pig heart cells, and found that they could perform the task without damaging the cells.
They said that little force the tweezers used to hold the cells squashed them out of shape by only 15 per cent.
The movements of their robotic tweezers are controlled by software, which identifies individual objects, and moves the tweezers towards them in just a few seconds.
The researchers say that the software makes the gripper's performance much speedier than that of a person.
"They can grasp silicon parts, and they can put things together. So it's really a flexible and dexterous hand," Sun said.
He said that another good quality of the revolutionary grippers is that it is cheap. If mass produced, he said, it might cost about 10 dollars.
A paper describing the robotic tweezers appears in the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering.