Researchers at The Chinese University of Hong Kong have created a “soft robot” made of slime containing magnetic particles, which can be manipulated using external magnets.
The magnetic particles are toxic, but have theoretically been made safe to enter the human body after being covered in a layer of silicone compound – although further safety testing will be needed in the future.
The team in Hong Kong hope the slime will one day be used to collect objects which have been accidentally swallowed.
Magnetic miniature soft-bodied robots allow non-invasive access to restricted spaces and provide ideal solutions for minimally invasive surgery, micromanipulation, and targeted drug delivery. However, the existing elastomer-based (silicone) and fluid-based (ferrofluid or liquid metal) magnetically actuated miniature soft robots have limitations. Owing to its limited deformability, the elastomer-based small-scale soft robot cannot navigate through a highly restricted environment. In contrast, although fluid-based soft robots are more capable of deformation, they are also limited by the unstable shape of the fluid itself, and are therefore poorly adapted to the environment. In this study, non-Newtonian fluid-based magnetically actuated slime robots with both the adaptability of elastomer-based robots and reconfigurable significant deformation capabilities of fluid-based robots are demonstrated. The robots can negotiate through narrow channels with a diameter of 1.5 mm and maneuver on multiple substrates in complex environments. The proposed slime robot implements various functions, including grasping solid objects, swallowing and transporting harmful things, human motion monitoring, and circuit switching and repair. This study proposes the design of novel soft-bodied robots and enhances their future applications in biomedical, electronic, and other fields.