It is a matter of tension, trouble, and panic when you or your child swallows an object accidentally. Then you rush towards the hospital or call an emergency. You think that you might go under a painful surgery, but then you find a magnetic slime robot that could save you and retrieves the object without a painful procedure. It offers a great feeling of comfort.
The magnetic slime robot can move through narrow passages, and gaps, and grasp the object. So, it performs like a surgeon retrieves objects swallowed accidentally. When you hear about robotic surgery you might take it like the robotic arms buzzing over a patient. Or you might think of a tiny endoscopic camera that assists the surgeon in navigating with precise instruments.
You probably do not think that a slime robot controlled by a magnet can slither through your GIT. Then, it reaches to swallowed objects like some kind of sci-fi ooze. Yet, this was the idea that worked in creating a Reconfigurable Magnetic Slime Robot that brought innovation to robotic surgery.
Creation of magnetic Slime Robot
A team of researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong created this amazing magnetic slime robot. Through this slime robot, they brought a change in GIT robotic surgery. The magnetic slime robot is a non-Newtonian fluid. So, it means this robot can behave both as a liquid and a solid. Interestingly, this robot is made of a mixture of borax and PVA. On the other hand, you can make your non-Newtonian fluid from cornstarch and water at home.
According to Li Zhang, a professor from the Department of Mechanical and Automation Engineering at CUHK and one of the leads on the project, “if you touch a non-Newtonian fluid at high speed, it behaves as a solid-state object. But, if you touch it gently and slowly, it behaves like a liquid.”
Elastic robots that can do robotic surgery on objects and fluid-based robots capable of navigating tight spaces both are already present. However, robots with both of these properties are less common.
Moving ahead, the magnetic slime robot is also a good electrical conductor. Therefore, it can interconnect electrodes in a circuit, its creators claim.
The dark-colored magnetic blob has been matched on social media to, Flubber, the eponymous material in the 1997 sci-fi film. They defined it as a “magnetic turd” and “amazing and a tiny bit terrifying”.
The slime robot possesses magnetic particles inside. Therefore, it can be controlled by an external magnet and manipulated to travel, rotate or form O and C shapes. A study published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials described the blob as a “Magnetic slim robot”.
“The ultimate goal is to deploy it like a robot,” Zhang said, adding that for the time being the slime lacked autonomy. “We still consider it as fundamental research – trying to understand its material properties.”
How a magnetic slime robot works
The unique behavior of non-Newtonian fluid lets the robot be like a liquid and travels through narrow passages. But it is solid enough to wrap around objects like wires or ball bearings. In this way, it performs a robotic surgery very comfortably.
“You can deform this material with an extremely large deformation, very much like how liquid can go through a tiny channel,” said Zhang. “But sometimes it can behave like a solid, because we know if you want to use it as a robotic hand, then, of course, it needs to interact with the environment.”
In this unique robotic surgery, a surgeon can guide the robot through tight spaces and channels with the help of a single or two magnets. Or, the surgeon can rotate it with a rotating magnet then it behaves just like an octopus’s arm which wraps up or grasps objects easily.
As the robot is a slime mixture and can conduct electricity, it can wrap around wires and repair circuits in places that are hard to reach.
However, the big hope for the magnetic slim robot is to check it for use in internal medicine. Here it would probably move through the GIT without causing any damage and conducts a successful robotic surgery.
“Currently the idea is whether we can use a Slime Robot to encapsulate or swallow hazardous material in your stomach or your small intestine… for example if someone swallows a battery by mistake,” said Zhang. “Because this is a gel-like material, it’s very soft and there are no sharp edges.”
A flexible, octopus-like magnetic slime robot that can squeeze through constricted locations, wrap around objects, and even “self-heal” could be the future of robotic surgery.