Aquabots: Ultrasoft liquid robots for biomedical and environmental applications

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The amplified rendering of the aquabots. The micrograph within the decrease left nook is the bending form “σ” of the aquabot. The micrograph within the higher proper nook is the compartmental buildings of the aquabot. Reprinted with permission from {Zhu, Shipei, et al. “Aquabots.” ACS nano (2022).} Copyright {2022} American Chemical Society.

In recent times, roboticists have developed all kinds of robotic programs with completely different physique buildings and capabilities. Most of those robots are both made from onerous supplies, resembling metals, or delicate supplies, resembling silicon and rubbery supplies.

Researchers at Hong Kong University (HKU) and Lawrence Berkeley Nationwide Laboratory have lately created Aquabots, a brand new class of soppy robots which are predominantly made from liquids. As most biological systems are predominantly made up of water or different aqueous solutions, the brand new robots, launched in a paper printed in ACS Nano, may have extremely beneficial biomedical and environmental functions.

“We have been engaged in the development of adaptive interfacial assemblies of materials at the oil-water and water-water interface using nanoparticles and polyelectrolytes,” Ho Cheung (Anderson) Shum, Thomas P. Russell, and Shipei Zhu informed TechXplore through e-mail. “Our idea was to assemble the materials that the interface and the assemblies lock in the shapes of the liquids. The shapes are dictated using external forces to generate arbitrary shapes or to use all-liquid 3D printing to be able to spatially organize the assemblies.”

Shum, Russell, Zhu and their colleagues coupled all-liquid 3D printing strategies with aqueous two-phase assemblies (ATPS), methods for assembling 3D buildings, to comprehend synthetic constructs that mimic organic programs. ATPS are a key space of focus for the analysis group at HKU led by Professor Shum.

The thought for the current paper got here when Zhu, a graduate scholar at HKU on the time, began pondering on the opportunity of integrating magnetic nanoparticles into ATPS meeting programs. This is able to enable them to direct the movement of the ATPS constructs utilizing exterior magnetic fields, which might produce robotic programs which are ultra-soft, versatile and might be tailored for particular capabilities.

“Our paper is the culmination of Zhu’s hard labors,” Shum and Russell stated. “Current soft robots are made for materials like poly(dimethyl siloxanes) which are great for flexibility but have limitations, such as the extent to which you can compress them. Functionalizing them with specific chemical functions is important for capture and delivery of materials, but is difficult. Aquabots overcome these limitations.”

The robots launched by this workforce of researchers have been assembled in aqueous environments. Which means they’ll function in aqueous environments and will also be tailored to finish particular duties utilizing water-soluble compounds.

“Aquabots create new opportunities to replicate bio-inspired materials and features, such as dynamic permeability and compartmentalization,” Russell and Zhu stated. “The robots are fully aqueous, with water inside and water outside them. They are easily functionalized to be biocompatible, so it is not hard to imagine bio-applications, i.e., within the body, where such constructs could be of use.”

The Aquabot buildings launched within the workforce’s current paper are quite simple, as they’re a prototype that demonstrates how they could possibly be assembled. Sooner or later, nonetheless, the identical course of could possibly be used to create extra advanced buildings that may deal with extra superior duties.

“Our study demonstrates the ability to construct robots and conduct robotic functions based on aqueous fabrication, and inspires design of similar aqueous robots for applications, such as biomedical micromanipulation,” Shum, Russell and Zhu stated. “Imagine having a simple tubular structure that has imbedded functionality that would allow you to fabricate a specific structure in the body, a self-assembling robot that could have the parts go through very narrow channels into a larger compartment where the soft, flexible parts could then self-assemble to perform a task, then dissembled and removed,”

Sooner or later, Aquabots may open thrilling potentialities for quite a few real-world biomedical and environmental functions. As an example, they could possibly be used to ship medicine to particular places contained in the human body, to biologically engineer human tissue, and to artificially carry out the capabilities of particular organic programs.

“We are now attempting to incorporate a hydrogel within the assembly of the robots, so that we can achieve fully-reversible shape changes,” Shum added. “In our next works, it would also be worth looking into other properties and functions enabled by the Aquabot platform, besides the proof-of concept mechanical manipulation and chemical reactions demonstrated in the paper. It would be interesting to combine this with other microfluidic and robotic approaches for new applications.”


A soft magnetic pixel robot that can be programmed to take different shapes


Extra data:
Shipei Zhu et al, Aquabots, ACS Nano (2022). DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.2c00619

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