Aquatic Sea Robot Breakdance
Photo credit: Northwestern University
Researchers at Northwestern University have developed a bizarre life-like material that acts as a soft robot. This light-powered aquatic robot can walk at human speed, pick up and transport cargo to a new location, climb up hills and yes, even break dance to release a particle. It’s nearly 90% water by weight, and the dime-sized robot moves without any complex hardware, hydraulics or electricity. That’s right, it’s activated by light and walks in the direction of an external rotating magnetic field. Read more for a video and additional information.

The robot itself looks like a four-legged octopus and functions inside a water-filled tank, making it ideal for use in aquatic environments. Practical uses include using the robot to catalyze different chemical reactions and then pump out the valuable products. It could also be molecularly designed to recognize and actively remove unwanted particles in specific environments and using their mechanical movements as well as locomotion to precisely deliver bio-therapeutics or cells to specific tissues.

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Conventional robots are typically heavy machines with lots of hardware and electronics that are unable to interact safely with soft structures, including humans. We have designed soft materials with molecular intelligence to enable them to behave like robots of any size and perform useful functions in tiny spaces, underwater or underground,” said Samuel I. Stupp, who led the experimental research.

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