In a close future micro-scaled untethered robots might be able to access small spaces inside the human body, currently reachable only by using invasive surgical methods, thus revolutionizing future medicine. The aim of this Master Thesis work is to study and develop a system that can exploit static magnetic fields and gradients to steer purpose-developed microrobots.
A concept of the device for the generation of magnetic fields is first elaborated, moving from the state-of-art systems based on Helmholtz and Maxwell coils, which can generate, respectively, nearly uniform magnetic fields and gradients. A uniform magnetic field can be used to orient a magnetic or magnetisable object, aligning it with the direction of the field, while a uniform magnetic gradient can be used to shift such an object. The developed system is formed by two coils in the Maxwell geometrical configuration and independently powered in order to generate a uniform magnetic gradient, a quasi-uniform magnetic field or a superimposition of the two, reducing the overall complexity of the hardware with respect to the systems also employing Helmholtz coils. An analytical model of the on-axis magnetic field generated by the device and a finite element model of the field in the workspace are developed. Three microrobot prototypes are then considered: a millimetre-sized NdFeB cylindrical permanent magnet, which allows to test the maximum performances of the developed device, a polymeric microbead, which is more compatible with biomedical applications but less reactive to magnetic fields than a permanent magnet, and a polymeric nanofilm, which allows to test the steering of very anisotropic shapes, both containing iron oxide nanoparticles. Models of their interaction with magnetic fields are presented. Furthermore, a model of the motion of the three prototypes employing the developed magnetic device is presented.
The experimental set up is described, including the two coils and their support backing, the monitoring and powering circuitry and a software kit containing four graphical user interfaces for the calibration and validation of the system.
After a set of trials performed for the calibration of the magnetic-field-generating device, the system is tested in steering the microrobot prototypes. The extrapolated data are compared to the behaviours predicted by the magnetic motion models.
The abilities of the magnetic steering system and its main limits are finally examined, suggesting possible improvements of both the magnetic device and the microrobots in order to enhance their control and manipulation. In particular indications for developing the next-generation of wireless magnetically-actuated microrobots and the relative steering systems are extrapolated.