Soft 3D-printed magnetic robots can crawl and jump, untethered

June 14, 2018 // By Julien Happich
Soft robotics, often leveraging slow to actuate material properties to create curling or moving robotic limbs, got a boost from a novel 3D-printing technique developed by MIT researchers.

In a paper titled "Printing ferromagnetic domains for untethered fast-transforming soft materials" published in Nature, the researchers report how they used an elastomer composite containing ferromagnetic microparticles to 3D-print specific mechanical shapes while controlling the magnetic orientation of the microparticles as they are printed layer by layer.

What they describe as the "3D printing of programmed ferromagnetic domains in soft materials" consists in applying a magnetic field to the dispensing nozzle while printing, which reorients the particles along the applied field, providing a distinct magnetic polarity to the printed material.


MIT Spiderlike Grabber (hexapedal structure), without
a magnetic field (left) and actuated with a magnetic field.

Then, when a uniform magnetic field is applied to such a soft 3D-printed shape with different magnetic domains distributed throughout its structure, the soft robot delivers non-linear mechanical responses, with unique deformation capabilities depending on its design. This is a huge improvement over uniform magnetic material structures only capable of elongating, shrinking, or bending on a whole.


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