Future Robots May Be Controlled By Magnetic Fields

Robots have to be soft and flexible if they are  to become more lifelike or if we want to start using them for more biological applications.

Scientists studying soft robotics are trying to overcome some of the inadequacies of moving metal beings made from janky, clanky parts, which might not be so useful for squeezing into tight spaces or moving around in the human body. But switching to bendier materials comes with its own set of problems to solve—for instance, how best to control soft robots, or make them strong enough to lift things.

A team of scientists at North Carolina State University is working on new ways to remotely-control soft robot parts, by embedding microscopic iron particles into polymer sheets. They’ve tested their prototypes out, and have come up with a new standard to measure just how well these robo-limbs are performing.

The researchers had previously tried making remotely-controlled soft robot parts using lab-made magnetic nanoparticles, but later switched to commercially-available ones. Along with an undergraduate’s help, “that let us do much faster device fabrications,” said Joe Tracy, author of a new paper published this week in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

The team created accordions that folded, tubes that squeezed, and cantilevers that could lift loads fifty times their weight—all by switching on a magnetic field.

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