Monday, February 26, 2024

Magnetic Robots Unlocking Boundless Possibilities

By Nidhi Agarwal

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Discover magnetically-controlled robots’ unprecedented walking, crawling, and swimming capabilities.

These capabilities are revolutionizing robotics with vast potential in exploration, rescue, and biomedical fields.

MIT professor of materials science and engineering and brain and cognitive sciences Polina Anikeeva in her lab.
Credits:Photo: Steph Stevens
MIT professor of materials science and engineering and brain and cognitive sciences Polina Anikeeva in her lab.
Credits:Photo: Steph Stevens

Magnetic robots showcase exceptional walking, crawling, and swimming skills through magnetic mechanisms. These innovative machines navigate complex environments by leveraging magnetic fields, overcoming traditional constraints. With vast potential in applications like search and rescue and exploration, magnetic robots are revolutionising the field of robotics.

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MIT scientists have created miniature, flexible robots that respond to a weak magnetic field for control. These soft-bodied robots, constructed from rubbery magnetic spirals, can be precisely programmed to walk, crawl, and swim, showcasing their versatility in movement through a simple and accessible magnetic field. These versatile robots are ideal for navigating tight spaces and have gentle rubber bodies, making them suitable for fragile environments. This opens up potential applications in cargo transportation and even biomedical fields. While currently millimetres in size, the technology can be scaled down for even smaller robots.

Engineering magnetic robots

The magnetic robots were previously limited to moving in response to moving magnetic fields. To overcome this, the researchers engineered strategically magnetised robots with different zones and directions, enabling a single magnetic field to control their movement profiles. The robots’ flexible bodies are fabricated by sandwiching and stretching two rubber materials, with one layer contracting to coil the fibre. Incorporating a third material with magnetic potential, specific magnetization patterns enable various movements, such as crawling or walking.

Biomedical potential

Through the precise magnetization process, each robot is programmed and easily controlled. Activation of a weak magnetic field triggers the specific movement program for each robot. Interestingly, a single magnetic field can also simultaneously induce opposite directions of movement for multiple robots, depending on their respective programming. Additionally, a minor adjustment in the magnetic field, such as flipping a switch to reverse it, enables a cargo-carrying robot to shake and release its payload delicately.

The researchers envision scalable soft-bodied robots delivering materials in pipes and human bodies, like drugs in blood vessels. The magnetically-actuated devices have biomedical potential and could be integrated into artificial muscles or tissue-regenerating materials.

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