This nasty-looking magnetic robotic slime could one day be used by doctors in digestive medical emergencies. Robots come in strange shapes and sizes but many focus on mobility and interacting with the environment and humans. Other kinds of robots, like warehouse robots, are specifically programmed to relieve workers from repetitive, dangerous, and backbreaking jobs. There are also healthcare robots, unique in the fact that they are built to improve care, and save human lives.
Innovation in healthcare is advancing at a rapid pace. The recent pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of the industry with tele-medicine and smart remote health monitoring devices now the new norm. AI and electronic health records in the cloud are also being used to prevent and better treat diseases, while robots are being tested to alleviate a stressed and strained health workforce.
Related: Nurse Says Apple Watch Warned Of Health Problems Months Before Diagnosis
New Scientist reports that researchers from the Chinese University of Hong Kong have created a magnetic robotic slime that can grab objects from inside a human body. The slime robot can move through very narrow spaces (up to 1.5 mm in diameter) and navigate complex environments. If the robot is cut into pieces it can automatically self-heal. The team that created the robot slime says that it could one day be used to retrieve harmful objects that a patient has accidentally swallowed.
Neither Liquid Nor Solid, Robotic Non-Newtonian
The robot is made of a polymer called polyvinyl alcohol-borax. Inside the polymer, the robot is filled with magnetic particles. While magnetic particles are known to be toxic to humans, the silicon coating is supposed to make it safe to be deployed inside a body. The robot is not autonomous, it is controlled by external magnets that allow it to move forward, rotate, or take the shape of an O or a C. As highlighted by The Guardian, Li Zhang, co-author of the paper that presents the new robot, explains that the material used is a non-Newtonian fluid. This means it can behave as a solid and as a fluid. “It’s very much like mixing water with [corn] starch at home,” Zhang said.
The study highlights the potential that magnetic miniature soft-bodied robots have for minimally invasive surgery, micromanipulation, and target drug delivery. Existing micro magnetic robots don’t have the elasticity or deformation capacity that this new robot has, and fluid-based robots are too unstable. As this new slime robot is neither solid nor liquid, it aims to present a novel solution for biomedicine and other fields. Now all researchers have to do, is fully test the robot, and maybe make sure it doesn’t look quite so gnarly.