Prof. Dr. Metin Sitti is the first Turkish director of the Max Planck Society Institute for Intelligent Systems, operating in Stuttgart, Germany, one of the founders of which was Einstein. He is a part-time professor in the faculties of Medicine and Engineering at Koç University, a distinguished professor at Carnegie Mellon University and an honorary professor at the University of Stuttgart. Sitti has recently received Koç University Rahmi M. Koç Science Medal for his micro and nanobiomedical robotics studies. We talked to Sitti about the future of the microrobots inspired by nature.

Specialized in microrobots

Developing projects in many different fields from medical microrobots, miniature mobile robots inspired by nature, and soft miniature robots to physical intelligence and micro-nano robotics studies, Director of Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems Prof. Dr. Metin Sitti is a name who has left 23 years behind in his science career. Having made an impression with his works in Tokyo, America, and Germany, Sitti states that he is inspired by nature in his projects. Expressing that they have learned a lot from nature, Sitti said, “From small bacteria to other small animals, we examine how they act both individually and collectively. Scientifically, we are making small robots that are inspired by nature and learning from nature. In this way, we realized that we are beginning to understand nature better. Our work to understand nature is guiding us to produce new materials and new methods.” Sitti’s new goal is to produce medical robots. Sitti, who stated that the most important application of small robots, both scientific and social, will be in the field of medicine, comments: “There are still parts of the human body that we cannot access. One of my biggest dreams is to make robots that will follow the human body from the inside and can report any illness before the body feels ill…”

Treatment procedures will differentiate

Sitti, who underlines that we can see robots smaller than millimeters in hospitals in the next 10-20 years, continues: “The special topic I’m working on is the very small robots that we see in movies like Fantastic Voyage, go directly into the human body wireless, perform operations like surgery or apply medication where they go. These robots are made through the medical device technology of the future that is implanted into the human body without pain and without the need of any kind of anesthesia, able to reach much smaller areas because they are wireless.” 

Sitti, who emphasized that the groundbreaking innovation they made in the field of miniature robots was to design and produce very small soft devices beyond being wireless, said, “Think of them as soft rubber; we put magnetic particles in an elastic polymer material and control it by changing its shape from the outside. With these robots, we want to make treatments in the brain or veins that we cannot access to treat without a surgical operation. Small robots that we’ve been working on for the use in cancer treatment are groundbreaking. Our target for the small robots is to reach directly to the cancerous area, apply the right dose of medication in the area, and prevent damage to other areas. We developed the first robot prototypes in the laboratory. We showed that they worked in organ models.”

He has two dreams

Drawing attention to the slow entrance of service robots, smart cars, and advanced medical robots into our lives, Sitti said, “Now people live longer. We need more robots to look after old people and solve their medical problems. There are also many diseases still without a cure or an effective treatment. It is now more important than before, to increase our quality of life and the realization of treatments without suffering or without affecting our life performance.”

Metin Sitti stated that they aim to treat cancers like pancreatic or gallbladder, which are difficult to treat or don’t even have a cure, and said, “I have two dreams at this point. The first is to develop medical robots that can treat at least a few of the diseases that don’t have a cure or an effective treatment method. By creating new miniature medical robots, I propose the possibility of a solution to many diseases that don’t have a cure or an effective treatment and to develop treatment methods that are painless in most diseases and will not affect our physical performance. The second is to make an early diagnosis with robots that are constantly navigating within the human body. Thus, to prevent the onset and progression of diseases early. If we can do that, we will be creating a medical revolution.”