AI News, Electric and Magnetic Fields Drive Soft, Flexible Robots

Electric and Magnetic Fields Drive Soft, Flexible Robots

The effect is slightly spoiled when you add the electronics and batteries required for untethered operation, but the fact that it can be self-contained at all is notable as well: A 450-mAh, 3.7-V battery will keep it swimming along at 1.1 centimeters per second for a solid 3 hours and 15 minutes, and it can even carry a tiny camera.

The researchers aren’t yet ready to suggest any specific applications for the robot, so it’s probably better to simply look at it as proof that these technologies work, leaving a practical robot for the next generation.

By changing the strength and direction of the magnetic field and tweaking the structure of the polymer, the researchers were able to create a set of potentially quite useful soft actuators, including a cantilever that can lift up to 50 times its own weight, an expanding and contracting accordion structure that works like a muscle, and a tube with a traveling compression wave that functions as a peristaltic pump.

These actuators seem to be cheap and easy to construct, and while they’re constrained by only actuating in response to an external force, they’ll work great on tiny robots inside your body, or perhaps in the context of deployable robots or structures that don’t need to be actuated constantly.

Researchers Control Soft Robots Using Magnetic Fields

A team of engineering researchers has made a fundamental advance in controlling so-called soft robots, using magnetic fields to remotely manipulate microparticle chains embedded in soft robotic devices.

“By putting these self-assembling chains into soft robots, we are able to have them perform more complex functions while still retaining relatively simple designs,” says Joe Tracy, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at North Carolina State University and corresponding author of a paper on the work.

“Possible applications for these devices range from remotely triggered pumps for drug delivery to the development of remotely deployable structures.” The new technique builds on previous work in the field of self-assembling, magnetically actuated composites by Tracy and Orlin Velev, the INVISTA Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at NC State.

The third device is a tube that is designed to function as a peristaltic pump – a compressed section travels down the length of the tube, much like someone squeezing out the last bit of toothpaste by running their finger along the tube.

“We do this by measuring the amount of weight being lifted and taking into account both the mass of particles in the lifter and the strength of the magnetic field being applied,” says Ben Evans, co-author of the paper and an associate professor of physics at Elon University.

We introduce the “specific torque”, the torque per field per mass of magnetic particles, as a figure of merit for assessing and comparing the performance of lifters and related devices.

Researchers control soft robots using magnetic fields

'By putting these self-assembling chains into soft robots, we are able to have them perform more complex functions while still retaining relatively simple designs,' says Joe Tracy, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at North Carolina State University and corresponding author of a paper on the work.

'Possible applications for these devices range from remotely triggered pumps for drug delivery to the development of remotely deployable structures.'

For this study, the researchers introduced iron microparticles into a liquid polymer mixture and then applied a magnetic field to induce the microparticles to form parallel chains.

The mixture was then dried, leaving behind an elastic polymer thin film embedded with the aligned chains of magnetic particles.

'The chains allow us to manipulate the polymer remotely as a soft robot by controlling a magnetic field that affects the chains of magnetic particles,' Tracy says.

The chains of iron microparticles respond by aligning themselves and the surrounding polymer in the same direction as the applied magnetic field.

The third device is a tube that is designed to function as a peristaltic pump – a compressed section travels down the length of the tube, much like someone squeezing out the last bit of toothpaste by running their finger along the tube.

Magnetic Nanoparticle Chains Offer New Technique for Controlling Soft Robots

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a technique for using chains of magnetic nanoparticles to manipulate elastic polymers in three dimensions, which could be used to remotely control new “soft robots.” The ability to control the motion of soft robots, coupled with their flexibility, gives them potential applications ranging from biomedical technologies to manufacturing processes.

Researchers are interested in using magnetic fields to control the movement of these soft robots because it can be done remotely – the control can be exerted without physically connecting to the polymer – and because magnetic fields are easily obtained from permanent magnets and electromagnets.

“The key here is that the nanoparticles in the chains and their magnetic dipoles are arranged head-to-tail, with the positive end of one magnetic nanoparticle lined up with the negative end of the next, all the way down the line,” says Joe Tracy, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at NC State and corresponding author of the paper.

When a magnetic field is applied in any direction, the chain re-orients itself to become as parallel as possible to the magnetic field, limited only by the constraints of gravity and the elasticity of the polymer.” The researchers believe this technique may be especially attractive for some biomedical applications, as compared to soft robotics that rely on electricity or light for control.

Shape-programmable miniscule robots

Soft materials that can use magnetic fields to generate desired time-varying shapes could provide an engine for microswimmers One day, microrobots may be able to swim through the human body like sperm or paramecia to carry out medical functions in specific locations.

In order to enable different magnetic response along the elastomer, the researchers leveraged two key ideas: “Firstly, we varied the density of the magnetizable particles along the elastomer and secondly we also controlled the magnetization orientation of these particles,” explains Guo Zhan Lum, a scientist in the Department of Physical Intelligence at the Max Planck Institute in Stuttgart.

The scientists controlled the local concentration of the particles during the fabrication process so that after the rubber has been exposed to a strong magnetic field, different parts of the rubber will possess different magnetic strength.

Hence, the scientists availed another trick: “By deforming the elastomer into a particular temporary shape during the magnetization process, we were able to control the final magnetization orientation of the individual magnetic particles very precisely,” explains Lum.

Although all of the magnetization orientation of the magnetic particles initially assumed a parallel orientation, when the deformed rubber was returned to the original flat shape, these particles along the elastomer will have the necessary magnetization orientation for the subsequent form of movement.

To this end, he and his colleagues from the Institute’s Department of Physical Intelligence used a mathematical model to describe the physics of shape-programmable magnetic microrobots, and this model was also utilized to develop a corresponding computer algorithm – the very first of its kind.

The fact that the shape of materials can be regulated and controlled via magnetic fields in mere fractions of a second could be of use in all applications that require the activation or mechanical steering of such devices in a small space.

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