The line between living things and technology is becoming harder and harder to determine. And a new gel-based robot with some extraordinary skills is blurring it even further.
Scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have engineered a type of gel-based robot capable of a number of remarkable feats. The device can kick a ball under water, as well as catch and release living fish.
The makeup of these robots is particularly intriguing. They are constructed entirely out of a substance called hydrogel. Hydrogel is a tough, rubbery material that’s mainly made of water. The robots are basically a series of hollow hydrogel tubes. It’s only when they are pumped with water that they expand and show their true shape. The ease of constructing these robots means scientists could create them with a variety of skills — there’s even one that has a hand-like appendage that grips and releases on command.
The makeup of the robots means they’re almost invisible when submerged, and since they’re powered by water there aren’t any extraneous pieces to deal with. This makes them perfect for hunting down and capturing (then safely releasing) real live fish. The robots combined the speed needed to reach out and grab a fish, as well as the gentleness needed to keep from injuring the animal.
Scientists believe that these hydrogel robots could have numerous and varied applications. In medical procedures they would be able to massage and support organs gently without doing them undo damage. And that’s just one of many ideas that these little robots could be applied to. Best of all, the soft robotics used can be easily adjusted and modified to suit a variety of needs. It’s entirely possible that these little hydrogel robots could go from catching goldfish in a tank to saving countless lives.