Scientists have created magnetically controlled flexible mesh robots that can grab objects when floating on a water surface using 3D printing.
North Carolina State University researchers have created a new 3D printing ink which generates soft and flexible structures. These structures can be controlled with a magnetic field while floating on water and have the potential to be used in a variety of applications in the future.
3D printing technology is becoming increasingly common in research and industry, but its use is limited due to lack of availability of specialist inks that can be used to generate novel structures. In this study, scientists first made an ink from silicone microbeads, bound in liquid silicone and water. This mixture has a paste-like consistency, similar to household toothpaste, where it can be easily manipulated, but retains its shape and does not drip.
The ink was then fed into a 3D printer and used to create mesh patterns. The final structures are cured in an oven and contains embedded iron carbonyl particles, which allow the researchers to use magnetic fields to manipulate it.
3D printed extending grabber. Video: Sangchul Roh
‘Embedding or iron carbonyl particles, which are widely available and have a high magnetism, allows us to impart a strong response to magnetic field gradients,’ said Joseph Tracy, senior co-investigator on the project and Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the university.
These new structures could be used to mimic insects that float on water, such as water striders, or live tissues in the body.
‘This research shows capabilities in the emerging field of 3D printing and soft robotics,’ said Orlin Velev, corresponding author of the paper and Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at NC State University. ‘For now this is an early stage, proof-of-concept for a soft robotic actuator.’