Inspired by sea creatures, Researchers have developed an Aquatic robot, which is powered by light and rotating magnetic fields
Automation in various fields is being powered by Robots & Cobots — where the prior is replacing the human workforce with their higher efficiency in repetitive tasks, while the latter concept is centered around co-operative robots, which are designed to help humans do their jobs more efficiently rather than replacing them entirely.
Earlier this year, I wrote about researchers from Stanford University and the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), who developed a soft robot that has the features of a traditional robot while providing greater maneuverability with the ability to change shape. This shape-shifting robot can grab objects and roll in controllable directions.
Taking the research of soft robots one step further — scientists at Northwestern University have developed a novel soft robot that can squeeze into tight spaces and pick up, carry and release objects on-demand, and powered by light and magnetic fields. Taking inspiration from the sea creatures, the soft robot can walk at the same pace like that of a human.
“We have designed soft materials with molecular intelligence to enable them to behave like robots of any size and perform useful functions in tiny spaces, underwater or underground.”
~ Samuel I. Stupp, Lead Researcher
According to the research, the centimeter-sized robot, which is 90% water by weight, moves without the assistance of any complex hardware circuitry, hydraulics, or electricity. Resembling an Octopus, and measuring only about 1 cm (0.4 in) wide, it can walk through the water — owing to the combination of materials used to construct it — made mostly of hydrogel, encasing a scaffold of nickel nanowires and contains specially designed polymer molecules.
The study builds on the Team Lead’s previous work to design “robotic soft matter” that imitates living sea creatures. Researchers have now developed robotic material that can walk at human speed (roughly one step per second). Under normal conditions, the robot lies flat. However, when exposed to light the molecules embedded in it become hydrophobic — bending the robot into a standing shape like a table by repelling the water around it (video below).
Once in the standing position, the bot can be exposed to a rotating magnetic field, causing it to move towards the rotating field which can be programmed to navigate the robot along a pre-determined path. Achieving a human-like walking speed is a big breakthrough, considering similar kinds of robots crawl at a snail’s pace.
Exposure of light becomes an ON-OFF switch for the soft bot. When the work is done, it can be deactivated simply by turning off the light. It can be reactivated again by the combination of light exposure and a rotating magnetic field.
The robots aren’t only a showpiece. They can be used to carry objects, either by wrapping their legs around them and rolling, or sticking things to their back and crawling. On reaching the destination, it can release the cargo by inverting itself or shaking the sticky objects off by spinning.
Researchers forsee wide-ranging applications for the new invention — from catalyzing chemical reactions and pumping out the resulting products, to cleaning water pollutants, or delivering drugs in the body.
Complete Research was published in the Journal of Science Robotics.