CUHK scientists are developing a soft-bodied, magnetic robot called the slime. These miniature, flexible robots are designed to be able to maneuver around with agility and stability, without having to rely on a hierarchical structure. They may also be useful for protecting people from sharp objects.
CUHK team develops elastomer-based slime robot
If you’ve ever wondered what slime is, or what’s possible with the “soft” robots of tomorrow, a team at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) has just the thing for you. They’ve recently developed a “soft” robot that uses neodymium magnets to move, and the team says it has potential applications in medicine and surgery.
The slime robot is made from polyvinyl alcohol, borax, and neodymium magnet particles. It’s also covered in a protective coating of silica to keep the particles from interacting. In other words, the scientists believe that the new technology could be used to repair broken circuits in hard-to-reach areas.
One of the most exciting features of the elastomer-based slime robot is the ability to change its deformation shapes. This is because the magnetic particles inside the slime are able to change their angularity and orientation. To change the magnetic field, the researchers first have to artificially manipulate the movement of the magnetic particles.
Magnetic miniature soft-bodied robots
Magnetic miniature soft-bodied robots have the potential to be used in a wide range of applications. These robots offer ideal solutions for minimally invasive surgery, targeted drug delivery and micromanipulation. They are also capable of performing object capture operations and repairing electrical circuits.
Soft robotics is a relatively new sub-category of robotics. It combines classical principles of robot design with the study of easily deformable materials. In addition, its platforms rely on stimuli-responsive materials that exhibit excellent shape recovery properties. This has led to the development of new, programmable soft robots.
Non-Newtonian fluid-based magnetically actuated slime robots demonstrate the ability to navigate through narrow channels and maneuver through complex environments. Moreover, these robots exhibit high transformation adaptability.
To build a magnetic slime robotic actuator, scientists added magnetic nanoparticles to polyvinyl alcohol. The resultant elastomer structure was magnetized with a magnetizer and remained on a PLA substrate. A silicone elastomer was used as a bonding agent.
As shown in Supplementary Movie 10, the robot can move through a rectangular trajectory. It can also be oriented and rotated with external magnets.
Magnetic slime could be used to protect people from sharp objects
There are some interesting potential applications for magnetic slime. It could be used to encapsulate swallowed objects or to help doctors retrieve them. And it may also have the potential to protect people from harmful or sharp objects.
While the science behind this invention is still unknown, the creators hope that the material has the potential to improve health and reduce the invasiveness of some surgeries. Currently, doctors and surgeons need to operate on patients through a tiny endoscope. This is a procedure that is very expensive and involves a lot of stress.
The magnetic slime is a soft, magnetic gel that can be used to encapsulate and transport substances. It is also a good conductor of electricity. If a patient swallowed something dangerous or harmful, the slime could be inserted into the gastrointestinal tract to rescue it.
The creators are presently testing the material on various surfaces and in different environments. They believe that it will be useful to prevent serious diseases.