Jan 25, 2019 | By Cameron

A study out of North Carolina State University investigates a process for 3D printing soft robotics that can be controlled with magnetic fields. Soft robotics is a subfield where robotic objects are constructed of materials that mimic tissues of living organisms; they generally achieve motion without the use of motors or servos. 3D printers serve as ideal tools to soft robotics engineers as their work is highly dependent on working with specific geometries and material mixtures of which 3D printers excel at producing.

"This research shows capabilities in the emerging field of combining 3D printing and soft robotics," said Orlin Velev, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at NC State and corresponding author of the paper.

The NC State team infused iron particles into a silicone-based "homocomposite thixotropic paste" and then 3D printed accordion-like meshes. "This self-reinforced paste allows us to create structures that are ultra-soft and flexible," stated Sangchul Roh, an NC State PhD student in Velev's lab and first author of the paper.

"Embedding of iron carbonyl particles, which are widely available and have a high magnetization, allows us to impart a strong response to magnetic field gradients," added Joseph Tracy, professor of materials science and engineering and senior co-investigator on the project. When applying directed magnetic fields to the 3D printed objects, they open and close accordingly.

"The structures are also auxetic, which means that they can expand and contract in all directions," Velev elaborated. "With 3D printing, we can control the shape before and after the application of the magnetic field." The meshes float on water, which also provides a low-resistance environment for the soft robots to operate. They demonstrated the robot grasping a small ball of aluminum foil as well as carrying and depositing a single droplet of water.

Such 3D robots would make for great ocean cleanup drones, grabbing pieces of plastic and debris on the water for later recycling and disposal. The researchers see more ambitious applications, however, with Roh commenting, "Mimicking live tissues in the body is another possible application for these structures."



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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