Feb 2, 2017 | By Benedict

Scientists at MIT have used 3D printing to create a transparent hydraulic claw that scan scoop up live fish in water. Thanks to its soft and squishy structure, the hydrogel-based device could eventually be adapted for human medical purposes.

Most of us have attempted to use a claw device at some point in our lives, though those instances are generally limited to fairgrounds and arcades, while the presence of any fish tends to be restricted to stuffed Finding Nemo dolls. Excitingly, that infamously difficult system now seems to have found a more wholesome use: catching live fish without hurting them. Scientists at MIT have used hydrogels to create a soft robotic claw that can be used to scoop up fish using a clever system of hydraulics. And while it doesn’t serve a particularly important purpose right now, its future applications could be many and varied.

An important part of the new MIT claw, fabricated using a 3D printed mold, is its transparency. Inspired by see-through glass eel larvae, which are almost invisible but can traverse large distances underwater, the scientists built the claw from a hydrogel, a polymer chain containing a large amount of water, to make it transparent. But using a hydrogel has other advantages too: because of the high water content of the hydrogel-made claw, it is also incredibly soft and pliable, behaving similarly to living tissue. It is therefore much gentler than traditional robotic devices that are invariably made from metal or plastic.

Despite the hydrogel being largely composed of water, the researchers were able to cast the claw parts in a mold made on a Formlabs Form 2 3D printer, before curing the parts with UV light to toughen them up. Afterwards, an Epilog Mini laser cutter was used to trim the parts down to size. Once assembled, the near-invisible claw could then be operated using a clever system of hydraulics, in which water is pumped through channels by syringes according to computer instructions. The hydraulics enable the claw to quickly open and close—fast enough to catch a live goldfish in an enclosed tank.

Although the researchers were delighted that the claw was able to quickly scoop up the goldfish (soft robotic devices that use osmosis instead of hydraulics can take hours to carry out a simple scooping motion), the researchers are currently looking for more serious real-world applications for hydrogel-based hydraulic systems. “Hydrogels are soft, wet, biocompatible, and can form more friendly interfaces with human organs,” said Xuanhe Zhao, lead researcher on the project. “We are actively collaborating with medical groups to translate this system into soft manipulators such as hydrogel ‘hands,’ which could potentially apply more gentle manipulations to tissues and organs in surgical operations.”

In addition to the fish-catching claw, the scientists also used similar techniques to fabricate a leg that could kick a ball, as well as a see-through fish that could flip its tail back and forth.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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