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3D Printing Magnet Robot can remodel and grab objects while floating on water

A study at North Carolina State University investigated the process of printing soft robots in 3D controlled by magnetic fields. Soft robots are a sub-field in which robotic objects consist of materials that mimic biological tissues; they usually move without using motors or servo motors. 3D printers are ideal tools for soft robotic engineers because their work is highly dependent on the specific geometry and material mixtures that 3D printers are good at producing.

The team at North Carolina State University injected iron particles into the silicone-based "homotype composite thixotropic paste" and then injected a 3-D printed accordion-like mesh into it. "This self-reinforcing paste enables us to create super-soft and flexible structures," said Sangchul Roh, a Ph.D. student at Velev Laboratory and the first author of the paper.

"Embedded iron carbonyl particles, widely used and highly magnetized, enable us to react strongly to magnetic field gradients," adds Joseph Tracy, a professor of materials science and engineering and senior co-researcher at the project. When directional magnetic fields are applied to 3D printed objects, they are opened and closed accordingly.

"These structures are also dilated, which means they can expand and contract in all directions," Velev explained. "With 3D printing, we can control the shape before and after applying the magnetic field." The net floats on the water, which also provides a low resistance environment for soft robots. They showed the robot grabbing a small aluminum foil ball and carrying and depositing a drop of water.


Such a 3D robot would be a great ocean cleaning UAV, grabbing plastic and debris in the water for later recycling and disposal. However, researchers have seen more ambitious applications, Roh commented: "Imitating living tissues in the body is another possible application of these structures."

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