Recent advances in sub-millimeter scale engineering suggest the possibility for constructing miniaturized tetherless medical tools for in vivo diagnostics and therapeutics. We review the challenges associated with the design and implementation of small, remotely controlled or autonomous surgical devices. Two key milestones are the creation of tiny mimics of macroscopic surgical devices with chemical, mechanical and electronic functionalities; and wireless strategies to control them or enable independent decision making (autonomous actuation). We summarize early results obtained in this area and discuss possible solutions with a focus on the challenges that can be addressed by innovations in materials science and engineering.

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(09)70272-X