The researchers at Northwestern University have created a new water-based robot that looks and behaves like a tiny aquatic animal, and could serve a variety of functions, including moving things place to place, catalyzing chemical reactions, and delivering therapeutics. This brand new soft robot looks like a lemon peel, but it’s actually a material made up of 90% water for the soft exterior, with a nickel skeleton inside that can change its shape in response to outside magnetic fields.
These robots are very small and minute, around the size of a dime, but they’re able to perform a range of tasks, including walking at the same speed as an average human, and picking up and carrying things. They work by either taking in or expelling water through their soft components, and can respond to light and magnetic fields.Their molecular structure is crafted such that when they’re hit by light, the molecules that make them up expel water, causing the robot’s “legs” to stiffen like muscles.
The researchers behind the invention of this tiny robot envision future versions that are even smaller small enough to operate on a microscopic level, perhaps for applications including targeted drug delivery within a patient. They could also theoretically be programmed to work together in a “swarm”-like arrangement, which would allow them to scale up to handle larger tasks, such as potentially acting as an on-demand suture in case of injury.