Mit Mini-Robots Moving With A Magnet

A team of MIT scientists have created small 3D printed robots that can move and manipulate with simple magnets, as if they were wireless puppets. Robots have different shapes: a ring that closes, a tube that crushes, a sheet that folds on itself… There is also a spiderlike structure, able to grab small objects.

I’m doing it (almost) in the house. They were made with common 3D printers loaded with a special ink in which magnetic particles were inserted. An electromagnet positioned around the print nozzle causes all magnetic particles to be directed in the same direction during robot production.

Researchers, applying appropriate magnetic fields to the different sections of the robot, are able to change their position. The right sequence of movements of the various sections is thus able to give rise to complex movements and also to make the structures \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \

Walking through the human body. Xuanhe Zhao, professor at the MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering, assumes that he uses these robots to make tiny biomedical devices that can be inserted inside the human body.

For example, they could be used to control blood flow in a vein or artery, to take tissue samples, to bring medicines or small cameras to areas of the body that are difficult to reach with other technologies.

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The Zhao robots are part of the’soft’ robots family, built with deformable materials, able to change shape as the external conditions change.

In recent years, several research groups have managed to develop robots made with l’hydrogel or synthetic polymers that can change shape and position following changes in temperature, humidity or pH. The reactions of these devices are rather slow, however, unlike Zhao’s robots that instantly respond to the application of magnetic fields.

Easy to maneuver. The strength of these devices is versatility: the MIT technology allows the realization of complex structures formed by several sections whose magnetic particles have different orientations.

In this way the application of the same magnetic field allows to obtain deformations and movements along different directions even in very narrow spaces and without the need of connecting wires.

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