Small robots made of ‘galinstan’ can run faster than a (miniature) leopard.

Mao and others. The.

Scientists at Johannes Kepler University (JKU) have created soft, steerable robots capable of running, swimmingand jump at high speeds. During testing, the robots achieved a speed of 70 BL/s (body lengths per second). These results are amazing because even cheetah (The fastest land animal on earth) can even run 23 BL/sec. But don’t expect absolute speed records, because robots have millimeter-scale bodies — even though these little machines are probably the fastest soft robots on the planet.

Soft robots are different from the traditional robots you see in factories, restaurants, and science fairs. built Using flexible materials Like polymers, shape memory alloys (these alloys change shape with a change in temperature). Soft materials allow robots to operate In a similar way into a living organism (or living tissue). By contrast, traditional robots are made of solid materials such as plastic, aluminum and metal.

For a long time, scientists have been trying to create soft robots fast enough Working in harsh environments Where no other machines work. These robots could play an important role in the medical field. For example, ultra-fast robotics may replace invasive methods such as colonoscopy. Doctors can use rapid soft robotics to check for any abnormalities in body organs (such as the stomach) that are difficult to examine with conventional diagnostic robots.

Build super fast robots

The ultra-fast robots are made using a liquid metal alloy called galinstan. It is composed of tin (Sn), gallium (Ga) and indium (In). Galinstan is not commonly used to create soft robots; They are mostly made of Silicon plastics. When asked the study’s first author and JKU soft matter physicist, Dr. Guoyong Mao, he told Ars Technica, “The most important property of this material is that it resembles a liquid at room temperature, while also having a high conductivity, which makes it useful for building soft and deformable coils.” .”

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The researchers used liquid metal 3D printing technology To form a galinistan coil. These 3D-printed coils were then embedded in elastomeric casings that held them together with an actuator that controlled their state. This results in a coil-style soft electromagnetic robot (SEMR) capable of delivering rapid actuation and propulsion. The researchers also outfitted the robots with L-shaped or sawtooth feet depending on the pillars they will be moving across.

SEMRs are powered by lithium-polymer batteries, and their ultra-fast movement is driven by electromagnetic actuators (components that convert electrical energy into mechanical energy). The actuators are magnetically responsive components, thus, fast-moving robots can be easily controlled using a constant magnetic field. During the tests, the tethered robots could move at a speed of 35 BL/s on a plane and 70 BL/s on a folded 3D surface. Furthermore, they swam at 4.8 BL/sec when tested in water. “We think this is a new and promising technology in robotics and has great potential for the future. We haven’t been able to find any similar technology, using a soft functional material, that can do so many tasks at such a high speed,” Mao said.

The future of ultra-fast robotics

The researchers also conducted velocity tests using a prototype of the untied soft robots and achieved a swimming speed of 1.8 body lengths per second (BL/s) and a maximum running speed of 2.1 BL/s. The researchers now plan to improve the efficiency and performance of untethered robots.

Mao and his team also say that developing more millimeter-scale SERMs using 3D liquid printing It could pave the way for larger hyper-fast robots in the future.

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There are different types of soft robots. Some can help us Plastic waste removal From the ocean, others can let us do warm study Lunar and Martian deserts. Speed ​​is a big limiting factor for all of these soft machines. The technology behind ultrafast SEMR has the potential to address this limit.

Nature Communications, 2022. DOI: 10.1038 / s41467-022-32123-4 (About DOIs)

Robindra Brahambhat is an experienced journalist and filmmaker. He covers science and culture news, and for the past five years he has been actively working with some of the most innovative news agencies, magazines and media brands operating in different parts of the world.

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