135 Views

A new breed of robot

Soft, transparent robots could soon be doing surgery as engineers at MIT have used advanced hydrogel to make powerful, durable robots

Engineers at MIT have made hydrogel robots capable of swimming, kicking a ball and even catching and releasing live fish.

For years the team led by Xuanhe Zhao and graduate student Hyunwoo Yuk had been mixing up a range of hydrogels, a jelly-like substance made almost entirely of water. Originally they did not intend on using their hydrogels for robotics and instead were focused on developing ways to glue these hydrogels to various surfaces such as glass, metal, ceramic and rubber.

Like many of the greatest scientific inventions, the team had unintentionally developed something revolutionary, a new material for soft robotics.

Like many of the greatest scientific inventions, the team had unintentionally developed something revolutionary, a new material for soft robotics. By using their unique hydrogel creation the MIT team had an advantage over previous soft robotics inventions, which were made using silicone, as silicone is not as safe to use in a clinical setting as hydrogels.

Others have attempted to use hydrogels to make soft robots but the end product was usually brittle and inflexible and therefore prone to bursting. These new hydrogel robots were tested for over a thousand cycles and were found to maintain their robustness.

To construct the robots 3D printing was used to form the simplest part of the structure – a chain of hollow cubes or tubes. To create the more complex designs these components were then cross-linked. Using this technique Yuk and Zhao created a trio of robots with different skills: a simple chain of cubes that would curl up when activated and could kick a rubber ball, a grabber capable of catching fish and a fish-like swimming robot (have a look at the link below).

 

The fish-like hydrogel robot. click link to see it ‘swimming’ http://www.nature.com/article-assets/npg/ncomms/2017/170201/ncomms14230/extref/ncomms14230-s7.mov (Yuk et al, 2017)

What makes these hydrogel robots particularly interesting is the mechanism they are powered by. Traditional hydrogel robots rely on osmosis to cause a shape change. This means that the robot is activated by water gradually entering it but this can take hours and only generates a few millinewtons of force. The robots engineered by Yuk and Zhao instead, used syringe pumps to inject water into the hollow tubes. This enables a rapid and forceful shape change producing a few newtons of force in a second.

Others have attempted to use hydrogels to make soft robots but the end product was usually brittle and inflexible and therefore prone to bursting.

The team were also keen to camouflage their soft robots. Other engineers have used techniques similar to that of octopi and squid to camouflage their hydrogel robots but for this to work they are required to know the background colours that the robot will be used against. Inspired by Leptocephali, transparent eel larvae, Yuk and Zhao realized they could overcome this issue by making their hydrogel robots visually and sonically transparent in water. They achieved this by making hydrogel robots with an exceptionally high water content so that they had visual and sonic properties almost identical to water. The end product was a little robot fish that can swim virtually undetected across a rainbow of colours.

The applications for this new breed of soft robot are far reaching, Yuk says they are now working with medical groups to try and make hydrogel “hands” which could be used in surgery. They could also be used for controlled and sustained delivery of drugs or cells. Marine biologists may be able to take advantage of the technology to produce more realistic robots for interaction with marine animals. Additionally their transparent properties may give these robots a job in the military being used for underwater reconnaissance.

IMAGE: Flickr

Get the best viral stories straight into your inbox!

Don't worry, we don't spam

Leave a Reply

Join the Badger Team

Apply today!

Latest Posts

Union obliterates the debate – unwritten requirement used to shut down free speech debate
Campus News
507 views1
Campus News
507 views1

Union obliterates the debate – unwritten requirement used to shut down free speech debate

Jordan Wright - April 27, 2018

Student society Liberate the Debate’s most recent event was cancelled over a lack of compliance with the Students' Union's (USSU) requirement for a neutral chair - a…

Verve Couture – Musicality, kitsch & ignition: the beginning of a series
Arts
50 views
Arts
50 views

Verve Couture – Musicality, kitsch & ignition: the beginning of a series

Ricardo Reverón Blanco - June 17, 2018

Pictured: Zac Black At Proud Cabaret audiences were spellbound as if at night at the circus, yet this was not like Angela Carter’s magical realist novel; Verve…

Fleabag on stage at The Old Market – review
Arts
91 views
Arts
91 views

Fleabag on stage at The Old Market – review

Florence Dutton - June 11, 2018

[caption id="attachment_35513" align="alignnone" width="2400"] Fleabag at Soho Theatre[/caption] Last Monday at 8pm at Brighton’s The Old Market, I sat myself down in my theatre seat eagerly awaiting…

Fleabag preview
Arts
91 views
Arts
91 views

Fleabag preview

Florence Dutton - June 2, 2018

[caption id="attachment_35513" align="alignnone" width="2400"] Fleabag at Soho Theatre[/caption] Following the mass success of the Bafta award-winning BBC Series, DryWrite and Soho Theatre are about to hit the…

Brighton Festival: Ezra Furman at the Dome
Arts
114 views
Arts
114 views

Brighton Festival: Ezra Furman at the Dome

Georgia Grace - June 1, 2018

Having completed my final semester of university with modules on punk history and queer arts, it was fitting that I rounded off my end-of-assessment celebrations by attending…

Arts
135 views

The Tempest review

Georgia Grace - May 30, 2018

As the sun begins to set over Hove Green, tinnies of Red Stripe are cracked open, tartan blankets are strewn, and families tuck into their picnic hampers.…

A Glass Half Empty review
Arts
148 views
Arts
148 views

A Glass Half Empty review

Georgia Grace - May 27, 2018

For those of us coming to the end of another year of university study, the prospect of careers, marriages and babies may seem a long way off.…

DollyWould at The Old Market review
Arts
139 views
Arts
139 views

DollyWould at The Old Market review

Alex Hutson - May 27, 2018

Sh!t Theatre’s DollyWould is a hilarious, thoughtful and experimental performance piece. The award winning show has the Sh!t Theatre duo integrating comedy, storytelling, personal experience and music.…

UCU Launch Petition to End the ‘Hostile Environment’ at Sussex
Campus News
226 views
Campus News
226 views

UCU Launch Petition to End the ‘Hostile Environment’ at Sussex

Billie-Jean Johnson - May 26, 2018

The Sussex branch of the University and College Union (UCU) has launched a petition calling for Vice-Chancellor Adam Tickell to end the 'hostile environment' at Sussex. The…

Arts
105 views

Shakespeare in the sun – The Tempest preview

Georgia Grace - May 24, 2018

In a world of dystopian King Lears and female Hamlets, Shakespeare’s classics are constantly being reimagined for the modern day. There’s something oddly refreshing then about the…

Review: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)
Arts
209 views
Arts
209 views

Review: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)

Sophie Coppenhall - May 23, 2018

What a phenomenal contrast these two films present when watched side-by-side. In essence, together they are capable of tracing inner and outer metamorphoses of their subjects. The…

Dollywould at The Old Market preview
Arts
137 views
Arts
137 views

Dollywould at The Old Market preview

Alex Hutson - May 22, 2018

From the 22nd May - 25th May 2018 DollyWould will be showing at The Old Market. An exciting new show, presented by Sh!t Theatre, who won the…

Exhibition: Io-sono Fedilouu
Artist Focus
212 views
Artist Focus
212 views

Exhibition: Io-sono Fedilouu

Ricardo Reverón Blanco - May 16, 2018

Last week artist Fedilou made her debut exhibition in the downstairs space of Morelli Zorelli, a quaint vegan Italian restaurant in Hove, featuring a collection of intimate…

Interview with Philosophy faculty and COGS director Ron Chrisley
Interview
146 views
Interview
146 views

Interview with Philosophy faculty and COGS director Ron Chrisley

Nikolaos Manesis - May 15, 2018

Ron Chrisley is a Reader in Philosophy, on the faculty of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, and is the director of COGS (Centre for Cognitive Science).…

Adam review
Arts
214 views
Arts
214 views

Adam review

Ketan Jha - May 13, 2018

If you have been a stranger to the stage this spring and decide to see one contemporary show, let it be Adam. This reviewer went in entirely…

Brighton Fringe Preview: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)
Arts
238 views
Arts
238 views

Brighton Fringe Preview: Nick Cave Double Bill at The Old Market (TOM’s Film Club)

Sophie Coppenhall - May 13, 2018

In celebration of iconic Brighton local, legendary alt-rock musician (and episodic actor) Nick Cave, TOM’s Film Club are hosting a double-bill screening of his films at The…

Whimsical fairy-tale meets class war – Standard: Elite review
Arts
276 views
Arts
276 views

Whimsical fairy-tale meets class war – Standard: Elite review

Georgia Grace - May 11, 2018

Meta-theatricality and interactivity are becoming all the more vogue in contemporary theatre, and in a world where the arts are becoming increasingly open and democratised, I find…

A Year of Art Society: The Best Picks
Artist Focus
190 views
Artist Focus
190 views

A Year of Art Society: The Best Picks

Alex Leissle - May 9, 2018

  [gallery type="slideshow" ids="35385,35386,35387,35388,35389,35390,35391,35392,35393,35394,35395,35396,35397,35398,35399,35400,35401,35402,35403,35404,35405,35406,35407,35408,35409,35410,35411"]

More Brit(ish) than ever: A review of Afua Hirsch at Brighton Festival
Books
200 views
Books
200 views

More Brit(ish) than ever: A review of Afua Hirsch at Brighton Festival

William Singh - May 9, 2018

Afua Hirsch’s 2018 book - part memoir, part polemic - provokes mixed feelings. So too did her discussion of the topic at this year’s Brighton Festival. Don’t…

Ethnic-bioweapons: between conspiracy and reality
Science
254 views
Science
254 views

Ethnic-bioweapons: between conspiracy and reality

Luke Richards - May 8, 2018

Bioweapons exist, while ethnic-bioweapons are whispered conspiracies. Pandemics can fairly hazardous to human life, the 1918 Flu Pandemic killed 20-50 million people. A man made pandemic could…

Breaking: Spring referenda results announced
News
262 views
News
262 views

Breaking: Spring referenda results announced

Jessica Hubbard - May 4, 2018

Students have voted to support the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, reject Prevent and adopt new Gender Equality policies. Results for the Students' Union referenda were…