The idea of using robots to assist in cleanup operations or search and rescue missions has been around for quite some time now. There is however one drawback to this idea. If the robot is damaged during the mission the chances of retrieving it are slim to none, this is especially bad if the robot costs a significant amount of money to develop and produce.
Now, it looks like researchers from UC San Diego have come up with a way to get around this issue by creating a robot that is able to heal itself. The robots are able to “swim” through fluids and carry out useful functions, such as cleaning up the environment, delivering drugs and performing surgery. While these robots have only been tested in controlled environments, eventually they will be released into harsh environments, where they could become damaged, this is where their healing factor comes into play.
Swimming robots are often made of brittle polymers or soft hydrogels, which can easily crack or tear. Senior author and UC San Diego nanoengineering professor Joseph Wang and colleagues wanted to design swimmers that could heal themselves while in motion, without help from humans or other external triggers.
In order to achieve this goal researchers made swimmers that were 2 cm long in the shape of a fish that contained a conductive bottom layer; a rigid, hydrophobic middle layer; and an upper strip of aligned, strongly magnetic microparticles.
The team then added platinum to the tail, which reacted with hydrogen peroxide fuel to form oxygen bubbles that propelled the robot. When the researchers placed a swimmer in a petri dish filled with a weak hydrogen peroxide solution, it moved around the edge of the dish. Then, they cut the swimmer with a blade, and the tail kept traveling around until it approached the rest of the body, reforming the fish shape through a strong magnetic interaction.
The magnetic connection was in fact so strong that the robots could also heal themselves when cut into three pieces, or when the magnetic strip was placed in different configurations.
Researchers hope this technique could be used to make hardier devices for environmental or industrial clean-up in the future.
Take a look at the self-healing robot in action below:
Picture: Screenshot from vidoe