Miniature robot swimmers are cured, they can help with operations and other medical applications

One of the organic abilities that was difficult to replicate in artificial systems was the ability to self-heal and regenerate – and now a new design for robot swimmers could do just that.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, have reported the development of “2D self-healing small swimmers” capable of moving independently and magnetically joining broken parts in flight. With this new technology, future robots can move and heal, which could create more durable robots for the environment or industry.

Supporters of the study describe in detail the development of these miniature swimmers in the latest ACS Nano Letters in a report entitled “Swimmers Heal on the Move After Catastrophic Damage.”

(Photo: YouTube channel of the American Chemical Society;)

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Miniature swimmers for various applications

Researchers at UC San Diego have developed these small robots capable of swimming through liquids to perform their tasks such as cleaning, collecting and delivering materials and medications, and even performing surgery. Although most of their development and testing was done in the lab, these miniature swimmers who are cured will eventually be tested in a real environment. Heavy environments are expected to damage these robots.

Existing swimming robots are usually made of brittle polymers or soft hydrogels, with any material unfortunately prone to cracking or tearing. Joseph Wang, along with colleagues from UC San Diego, sought a design choice that could lead to the design of swimmers that can be cured on the go without external triggers or manual input from human controllers.

Their resulting design led to swimmers who were only 2 inches long or almost equal to the average width of a human finger. These swimmers – designed in the shape of a fish – are equipped with a conductive lower layer, a rigid and hydrophobic middle layer and an upper layer containing flattened and highly magnetic microparticles. An alloy of neodymium, iron and boron was used in specially made strips so that the robots could be cured.

In addition, the researchers used platinum in fish tail, which reacts with hydrogen peroxide used as fuel, creating oxygen bubbles that move the robot to move through the liquid where it is released.

Testing his ability to move and heal autonomously

The researchers placed samples of the robot swimmer in a petri dish to test its mobility containing a weak solution of hydrogen peroxide. They watched as these miniature swimmers moved along the sides of the vessel. Next, the researchers cut the swimmer with a blade. The tail moved on its own until it found its other half, reattached it, and returned to its original shape of the fish by magnetic interaction between the separate parts.

Furthermore, the researchers also tested whether the robot swimmers could be cured when they were cut into three parts or changed the configuration of the magnetic strips – they are. According to the researchers, the versatile, quick and simple self-healing strategy they demonstrated with these little swimmers could be an important step towards in-flight repair for swimmers and robots.

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