MIT scientists are behind the development of a new invisible, hydrogel robotic claw. Although tests saw it snatching fish out the water, its real-world applications could be quite important.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology or MIT researchers are no strangers to biomimicry. Previous studies saw them develop robots that could creep or slither. Understandably, they were based on snakes and worms. And they also created fish-like robots.
Biomimicry is also knowns as biomimetics. It is the study and imitation of natural elements, systems, and models. These are studied in order to offer answers to complex human problems.
Now, a team of researchers turned to a different set of animals. The scientists took a special interest in glass eels. And thanks to biomimetics, they developed a hydrogel robotic claw.
Its composition can explain the robot’s unique properties. The claw appears to be almost invisible. It is also reportedly quite squishy. These are all properties of the hydrogel.
This latter is an interesting material. Mostly based on water, it also borrows some of its properties. Hydrogel is a nearly transparent and rubbery material. At the same time, it is also quite tough. It is the predominant material used in making the hydrogel robotic claw.
The research team offered some details on the matter. Study results were released earlier this week. They were published in the Nature Communications journal.
Available online since February 01, the paper was titled as follows. “Hydraulic hydrogel actuators and robots optically and sonically camouflaged in water”.
The hydrogel robotic claw is water dependent. It functions as water passes throughout it. Robots are not usually made out of hydrogels. These polymer gels are usually too flimsy. Both light and sound can pass through them. But they are also not strong enough to permit movement or speed. In most cases, they would fall apart.
As such, the MIT scientists also analyzed their chemical formula. Following the studies, they developed a new formulation. This was then cured with UV light. The process toughened up the hydrogels.
Which allowed the development of the strong yet flexible robots. And they can be designed according to need. The researchers also carried out a series of tests.
They designed a hydrogel robotic claw that can catch fish. And put it through repeated cycles of use. These showed that the claw can withstand 1,000 cycles without tearing apart or rupturing.
The water circulation system was also specifically designed. It uses a mechanism that can quickly inundate the hydrogel robotic claw. This influenced and increased its force and speed. But still maintained its soft touch.
When snatching the fish, it did not harm the animal. Its capture, a goldfish, was quickly released back in the water. The MIT scientists posted a video which captured the moment.
And also another one presenting another ability. Another hydrogel robot was seen kicking a ball. And both of them were captured underwater.
Xuanhe Zhao went to offer some additional details. He is an MIT associate professor involved in the study. According to Zhao, the hydrogels could have a medical application.
Their hydrogel robotic claw catching a fish was a quirky test. But the technology’s utilization can be quite important. It could start being used in the surgical field.
Zhao points out the following. Hydrogels are soft, biocompatible materials. They can combine and form interfaces with the human organs. The researchers are reportedly already collaborating with medical groups. They are working towards transforming the system. Their target? Soft manipulators which could include even hydrogel hands.
Such robotics could be used in surgical operations. They may offer a gentler manipulation of the organs and tissues. Still, the researchers still have to surpass some hurdles. For example, the hydrogel robotic claw depends on its external water pump. Which means it still has a quite fixed position.
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