A soft robot has been developed, which can swim without the need for battery assistance and test for water-based contaminants.
The research team behind the bot comprised of biomedical engineers and roboticists affiliated with multiple institutions across China. The team noted that the robot can be powered and controlled using radio waves in lieu of a battery power source.
In their paper published in the journal Science Advances, researchers have named the solution a miniaturised soft electromagnetic swimmer (SES).
The SES is shaped like an arrowhead with a notch cut in the back—the engineers placed a tail in the notch that moves in a similar fashion to a dolphin tail, courtesy of an embedded magnet and coil antenna, which enables propulsion. The tail is activated by taking advantage of the energy in radio waves.
The robot was also fitted with three sensors, one that could test for and measure chloride levels in the water around it, another that does the same for ammonia, and an additional one that can test for the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
A chip was also fitted to allow the robot to process information from the sensors and send signals to a nearby smartphone. To support this feature, the team developed software that graphically displays the data from the sensors.
One potential use case for SES is seeking the source of pollutants in water-carrying pipes in urban environments to help protect citizens from harmful contaminants.
Currently, robot cannot yet venture further than 4cm from the radio wave source and 10cm from the smartphone receiving data transmissions, confining current application to small, short-distance endeavours.
Testing of the device in a lab environment showed it worked well when propelled through small, water-filled pipes. The researchers plan to continue working on their robot to find ways it can be used in more remote settings.
The team has claimed that no such robot exists outside of the SES, though one set of researchers came close in 2022 with the development of a twisted soft robot that could navigate mazes without human or computer guidance.