Science 3 min read

New Technique Uses Magnetic Field and Light to Control Soft Robots

Scientists found a new way to control soft robots. That is by using LED light and embedding magnetic microparticles into polymer material.

Rotation of a flower with six petals. Turning on the LED in sync with the rotation of every second petal beneath the magnet causes lifting of alternating petals, which remain lifted. Photo credit: Jessica A.-C. Liu. via NC State University News

Rotation of a "flower" with six petals. Turning on the LED in sync with the rotation of every second petal beneath the magnet causes lifting of alternating petals, which remain lifted. Photo credit: Jessica A.-C. Liu. via NC State University News

The researchers from North Carolina State University and Elon University had figured out a new way to control soft robots. It involves the use of light and magnetic fields.

Soft Robotics is a subfield which focuses on the construction of robots from highly compliant materials. Drawing inspiration from nature, the goal of this subfield is to create machines that can move like living organisms and adapt to their surroundings.

In their publication in the journal Science Advances, a team of researchers described how they’re one step closer to attaining that goal. The team developed a highly reconfigurable way to control soft robots.

Not only did this enable the engineers to lock the machines into position for as long as they wanted, but they could also reconfigure the robots into new shapes.

In a statement co-author of the paper, and professor of material science at NC State, Joe Tracy, described the technique:

“By engineering the properties of the material, we can control the soft robot’s movement remotely. We can get it to hold a given shape; we can then return the robot to its original shape or further modify its movement, and we can do this repeatedly.”

So, how does the new technique work?

Using Magnetic Field and Light to Control Soft Robots

For the study, the researcher used soft robots that are made from a polymer embedded with magnetic microparticles. While the material is relatively stiff under normal conditions, it could become pliable under heat.

So, the researchers did just that. They heated the material using light from a light-emitting diode (LED) to make the material pliable. Then, they applied a magnetic field to control the shape of the robot.

After assuming the desired shape, the researchers removed the LED light to allow the robot to become stiff again. In other words, they were able to lock the machine’s shape in place effectively.

But, the technique had more reconfigurable options.

For example, the researchers could return the robots to their original shapes by applying the light a second time and removing the magnetic field. Another option was to use the light again and manipulate the magnetic field to get the robots to assume new shapes – or even move them.

During experimental testing, the researchers noted that they could create “grabbers” from the soft robots, which enabled them to lift and transport objects.

Also, the engineers developed a computational model to help streamline the soft robot design process. With the new model, they could fine-tune the robot’s shape, polymer thickness, and the abundance of iron microparticles in the polymer.

Also, it provided information on the size and direction of the magnetic field necessary to accomplish a specific task.

“Next steps include optimizing the polymer for different applications. For example, engineering polymers that respond at different temperatures in order to meet the needs of specific applications,” Tracy concluded.

Read More: New Materials Discovered for Soft Robots and AI Tech

Found this article interesting?

Let Sumbo Bello know how much you appreciate this article by clicking the heart icon and by sharing this article on social media.


Profile Image

Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

Comments (0)
Most Recent most recent
You
share Scroll to top

Link Copied Successfully

Sign in

Sign in to access your personalized homepage, follow authors and topics you love, and clap for stories that matter to you.

Sign in with Google Sign in with Facebook

By using our site you agree to our privacy policy.