With just a wave of a magnet, the robots can roll, jump, and crawl around in confined spaces. In the future, the MIT team hopes to build a stronger, more intelligent version of this robot that can be used for tasks such as medical procedures or cleaning up radioactive waste.
Each robot is designed with a unique shape and structure to match its function. A 3-D printer then uses a silicone-based rubber material to bring that design to life. The printing technique has been crucial to the robots’ design, says Zhao, because it allows magnetic microparticles to be deliberately embedded throughout the material.
A computer program aligns each microparticle in a specific direction in a certain part of the robot, which allows magnetic force to trigger a desired response. For simple functions, Zhao is able to power the robots simply by waving a magnet over them. For more complex tasks, he says, the robots will need to operate inside a magnetized chamber that can apply pull simultaneously in different directions.
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