Iron particles and magnetism move soft-bodied robots

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Scientists at North Carolina State University have developed a method to move soft robotic objects using directed magnetic fields. They say it could be used for applications ranging from remotely triggered drug delivery pumps in the body to developing remotely deployable structures.

The researchers started by adding microparticles of iron to a liquid polymer and then applying a magnetic field to the mixture. This caused the iron particles to organize into parallel chains. The liquid was then allowed to dry, forming a thin film of elastic polymer, with the chains of iron particles embedded inside.

When this film was then subjected to magnetic fields, the chains of iron particles tried to line up with it, moving the film with them. By varying the strength and direction of the magnetic field, it was possible to make the material move in different ways.

Using this technique, scientists created three types of soft “robots”. One is a cantilever that can lift up to 50 times its own weight, another is an accordion-like device that expands and contracts like a muscle, and the third is a tube that works like a peristaltic pump.

“We are now working to improve both the control and the power of these devices, in order to advance the potential of soft robotics,” says Associate Professor Joe Tracy.

A research article was recently published in the journal Applied materials and interfaces ACS.

Source: North Carolina State University


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