Technique uses magnets, light to control and reconfigure soft robots: Study
Updated: August 5, 2019 20:54 pm
Researchers have developed a technique that allows them to remotely control the movement of robots, lock them into position for as long as needed and reconfigure them later into new shapes, with the help of light and magnetic fields. Researchers used robots made of a polymer embedded with magnetic iron microparticles. Under normal conditions, the material is relatively stiff and holds its shape but heating up the material using light from a light-emitting diode (LED), makes the polymer pliable. Once pliable, researchers demonstrated that they could control the shape of the robot remotely by applying a magnetic field. After forming the desired shape, researchers could remove the LED light, allowing the robot to resume its original stiffness effectively locking the shape in place. By applying the light a second time and removing the magnetic field, the researchers could get the soft robots to return to their original shapes or move the robots or get them to assume new shapes. In experimental testing, the researchers demonstrated that these soft robots could be used to form "grabbers" for lifting and transporting objects. The soft robots could also be used as cantilevers or folded into "flowers" with petals that bend in different directions. The model allows them to finetune a robot's shape, polymer thickness, the abundance of iron microparticles in the polymer, and the size and direction of the required magnetic field before constructing a prototype to accomplish a specific task.