Some great new tech news from my favourite innovators, those wacky folks at MIT: they’ve invented a series of hydrogel “robots,” which are much more responsive than previous generations, and could have an extraordinary range of applications in the medical field and beyond!
These soft robots are designed to “live” and work in water. The designs include a fin that waves, an articulated finger that can kick outward, and a hand-shaped construction that can gently grab small objects. The chief new innovation involves pumping water into the structures quickly, rather than relying on natural absorption. This allows the fin, finger, and especially the hand, to move faster and apply greater force to what they are trying to affect. The team offered a particularly cool demonstration video in which the hand robot grasped and release a goldfish so quickly and gently, that the goldfish was barely disturbed!
These robots are rough-and-tough too, and are effectively invisible — benefits for both medical and underwater applications:
“‘Hydrogels are soft, wet, biocompatible, and can form more friendly interfaces with human organs, [MIT associate professor of mechanical engineering and civil and environmental engineering Xuanhe] Zhao says. ‘We are actively collaborating with medical groups to translate this system into soft manipulators such as hydrogel “hands,” which could potentially apply more gentle manipulations to tissues and organs in surgical operations. […]
For the past five years, Zhao’s group has been developing ‘recipes’ for hydrogels, mixing solutions of polymers and water, and using techniques they invented to fabricate tough yet highly stretchable materials. They have also developed ways to glue these hydrogels to various surfaces such as glass, metal, ceramic, and rubber, creating extremely strong bonds that resist peeling.”
The team also mentions that other potential applications for these robots may not have even been thought of yet, and they are “tossing this concept out there” to see what the rest of the community might come up with. The spirit of collaboration at its finest! I’m very intrigued to see where these little guys go, and I for one welcome our tiny, invisible, fish-hugging overlords.