Not all robots are hard, rigid affairs, and the rapidly-growing field of soft robotics has a lot of interesting applications. Soft robots tend to more accurately mimic natural organisms and animals, and could be very useful in applications where a heavy, clunky robot would fail. Usually, soft robots are controlled by inflating flexible bladders with air or liquid, but this new robot design is controlled by magnetic fields and can grasp objects floating on the surface of water.
These soft robots were developed by researchers at North Carolina State University, and act a lot like the kinds of organisms that dwell on the surface of water. They also resemble large-scale versions of basic cell structures, which opens up a whole new area of research. Each robot looks like a simple lattice of interconnecting strands of silicone, and doesn’t have any visible electronics of its own. But, by externally manipulating the magnetic fields around a robot, the researchers can move it about and even make it grasp objects.
They work thanks to a specially-made filament composed of silicone microbeads and iron carbonyl particles suspended in liquid silicone. A standard 3D printer is used to form the structure of the robot, and that is then cured in an oven to make it solid. The structure itself is designed to react to the surrounding magnetic fields in specific ways, which is how the researchers are able to control it.