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Magnetic Nanoparticle Chains Offer A New Way Of Controlling Soft Robots

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a new technique for using chains of nanoparticles to manipulate elastic polymers in three dimensions, a process that could be effectively used to remotely control ‘soft robots’. The use of magnetic field to control the movements of these robots was favoured by researchers because it can be done remotely i.e. without physically connecting to the polymer. Moreover, the magnetic fields are easily attainable using permanent magnets and electromagnets.


The ability to manage motion of soft robots coupled with their flexibility gives them a wide range of applications from bio-medical technologies to manufacturing processes. Using the technique, large nano-composites in many different shapes can be created and manoeuvred remotely.

The technique can really be a cut above the other techniques that rely on electricity or light for control. Moreover electrical control can raise safety issues for some medical applications and both the applications of light and electrical signals, can pose challenges in communicating the signals to devices embedded in the body. Magnetic fields however, pass through easily and pose minor safety issues.

Soft robotics, which comes under the branch of Bio-inspired robotics, utilizes the idea of making all components in robot soft and flexible in order to move in limited spaces and change gaits fairly easily.

The researchers embedded long chains of nano scale magnetite particles (an iron oxide) in sheets of elastic polymer to form a magnetic polymer nanocomposite. By an application of magnetic field they could control the way nano composite bended- making it a soft robot. The magnetite nanoparticles arrange themselves into parallel chains, on application of magnetic field and the finished nanocomposite formed after drying, can be cut to further refine its shape.

Chained Magnetic Polymer Nanocomposite.
The technique uses relatively inexpensive and widely available materials with the process being relatively simple and easy to execute.

The paper ‘Selective and Directional Actuation of Elastomer Films using Chained Magnetic Nanoparticles’, citing the work has been published online in Royal Society of Chemistry journal Nanoscale.

Source: North Carolina State University

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