Watch this creepy jelly robot walk underwater after being zapped with electricity
A team of researchers has created a 3D-printed gel that can walk underwater, grab objects and even move them. Unlike mechanically complex robots that are made from hard materials, the smart gel is soft and can easily be miniaturised, which could lead to a range of revolutionary applications in medicine and underwater inspections.
How is it possible to control the way a gel moves when there are no motors, joints or hard parts?
After the gel is made (by projecting light onto a light-sensitive solution during the 3D printing process) its movements are triggered by placing the material in a salty water solution and then applying electricity. The speed of movement is determined by its dimensions – thinner sections move fast and thicker sections move more slowly – along with the amount of salt in the solution and the strength of the current.
It’s this response to electrical stimulation, along with the fact the gel is made from 70% water, that makes hydrogel like muscle tissue. As such, the researchers from Rutgers University in New Brunswick believe their work could lead to the development of artificial heart, stomach and other muscles, along with devices for diagnosing diseases, detecting and delivering drugs.
“Our 3D-printed smart gel has great potential in biomedical engineering because it resembles tissues in the human body that also contain lots of water and are very soft,” said Howon Lee, senior author of the study. “It can be used for many different types of underwater devices that mimic aquatic life, like the octopus.”
Although hydrogels already exist in medicine, it’s the 3D printing technique that has revolutionised how they could be utilised. “This study demonstrates how our 3D-printing technique can expand the design, size and versatility of this smart gel,” Lee said. “Our microscale 3D-printing technique allowed us to create unprecedented motions.”
As with all scientific research, it’ll probably be some time before we see these jelly robots being put to effective use in the real world, especially when you consider that some of the movements in the video are sped up drastically. In the meantime, we’ll have to make do with watching the long-armed humanoid’s hypnotic breakdance on repeat.