The Snefel is a set of three micro robots designed as super-mini “medical vehicles.” They patrol human blood vessels to give better vision when operating, to cure locally, and to detect future problems. The different types of robots are respectively called the Biop, the Skout, and the Subu.
With virtual reality making its way into all fields of life, I started thinking about microscopic vehicles that humans could drive in various environments. The first one we designed was the Antro, a small robot mounted on Segway wheels.
Then we wondered about machines that were even smaller—like microscopic—that doctors could literally drive inside your body. How might these look? I asked my wife to give me a few pointers on medicine and I asked designer Bing Xiao Liu to imagine the future with us.
How It Works
The Snefel robots are all made for the human body. They would have special proteins, specific to the individual, which would mirror the ones on red blood cells. This would give them immunity against white blood cells that would otherwise consider them as a menace for the body and destroy them. It would also reduce the possibility of rejection.
The size of the robots would be around the same size as white blood cells (12 to 15 µm). In comparison, a human hair can measure between 17 µm and 180 µm in diameter. The reason for their small size is the fact that they have to be able to go anyplace in the body—and most importantly, never block a blood vessel!
The Biop is a miniature VR camera robot. To optimize image quality, the minuscule camera could use a magnifying lens to capture the view all around the Biop and build a three-dimensional view of its location. Doctors would use it to see during different procedures such as delivering the embryo at the proper place in the uterus during artificial insemination. Being able to see will make the surgeries easier and faster for the surgeon, giving the patient better odds.
The Skout is a small delivery robot. Due to its shape, it could contain a small dose of medicine to treat locally. Its tail-like propulsion systems would help it reach its destination. The propulsion system would consist of a membrane that could contract itself when an electric current passes through.
Treating locally means that to get the same results, the quantity of medicine required is drastically reduced. The Skout could, for example, carry a dose of medicine and conduct a thrombolysis: the breakdown of blood clots. The Skout could have a frame made out of the medicine it has to deliver, meaning that it could lodge itself in the clot and slowly degrade as it releases the medicine it came to deliver.
The Subu is the final robot of the trio. Its job would be to repair blood vessels, dig through clots, collect blood samples, and study them to give a day-to-day update. The Subu would be perfect for haemophiliacs, diabetics, or people at high risk for blood clots.
Many Subus would patrol within the body, and when a problem is detected, they would be able to either fix it or call for help. For example, when a Subu detects an open [internal] wound, it could summon its linked robots in the body and bunch together to slow down the bleeding after sending an alert emergency services.
The Snefel concept was imagined in November 2016 by Charles Bombardier and the renderings were designed and produced by Bing Xiao Liu, an Industrial Designer based in Montreal, Canada. Bing studied at the University of Montreal. He also designed the Upekzit bus concept and the Bitatibi snowmobile.