Tiny water-based robots are powered by gentle and might stroll, transfer cargo, and even dance


A new robot, developed by researchers at Northwestern University, looks and acts like a tiny aquatic animal and can perform a variety of functions, including moving things from place to place, catalyzing chemical reactions, delivering therapeutics, and more much more. This new soft robot honestly looks like a lemon peel, but it's actually a material that's 90% water for the soft exterior, with a nickel skeleton inside that can change shape in response to external magnetic fields.

These robots are very small – only about the size of a dime – but they can perform a number of tasks, including walking at the same speed as the average human, and picking up and carrying objects. They either absorb water or expel it through their soft components and, thanks to their precise molecular design, can react to light and magnetic fields. Essentially, their molecular structure is designed so that the molecules that make them up expel water when hit by light, causing the robot's “legs” to stiffen like muscles.

Credit: Northwest

Magnetic Thanks to the embedded nickel framework, which is ferromagnetic, fields can then be applied to set the legs in motion. The joint use of light and magnetic fields together with a highly accurate calculation can lead to a very precise movement along the desired paths.

The researchers behind this little bot envision future versions that are even smaller – small enough to work at the microscopic level, possibly for applications including targeted drug delivery within a patient. In theory, they could also be programmed to work together in a "warm" arrangement, which allows them to be scaled to handle larger tasks, such as: B. possibly as an appropriate seam in the event of an injury.

A lot of research and work is required to get to this type of application, but the existence of the bots is a remarkable feat even at this stage and an indication of what to expect from soft robotics and smart materials that are not What is required is the type of heavy and bulky computer associated with today's production robots.