This slimy turd-like magnetic robot could grab things inside your body

But for now, it's too toxic for use inside the human body.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Reconfigurable magnetic slime robot.Advanced Functional Materials

A slimy turd-like robot could one day be used to grab things from inside the body, according to a new report published on Friday by The Guardian. The device is the creation of Prof Li Zhang, of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The slime can move around controlled by magnets, surround things in the shape of a C or O and pick them up, and can even interconnect electrodes.  “The ultimate goal is to deploy it like a robot,” Zhang told The Guardian. “We still consider it as fundamental research – trying to understand its material properties.”

Different behavior

Just when you thought it could not get weirder, the researcher revealed that the slime behaves quite differently according to how you approach it. “When you touch it very quickly it behaves like a solid. When you touch it gently and slowly it behaves like a liquid,” Zhang said.

How is it made? It consists of a mixture of a polymer called polyvinyl alcohol, borax, and particles of neodymium magnet responsible for the attraction that leads to the slime's movements.

“It’s very much like mixing water with [corn] starch at home,” Zhang added.

The researcher does indicate that it could be used inside the human body (inside the digestive tract). However, there is one danger with that and that is that the magnetic particles in the slime are toxic.

Still too toxic

To deal with this issue, Zhang and his team coated the slime in a layer of silica. This, they expect, would produce a protective layer that would deter the toxic particles from interacting with the human body. However, they still note that the substance could not remain in the body for long.

“The safety [would] also strongly depend on how long you would keep them inside of your body,” Zhang concluded. Although it's a cool invention to watch, in reality, it cannot serve any true purpose in the human body until its toxic qualities are completely removed.

The study concerning the slime was published in the peer-reviewed journal Advanced Functional Materials.

Study abstract:

Magnetic miniature soft-bodied robots allow non-invasive access to restricted spaces and provide ideal solutions for minimally invasive surgery, micromanipulation, and targeted drug delivery. However, the existing elastomer-based (silicone) and fluid-based (ferrofluid or liquid metal) magnetically actuated miniature soft robots have limitations. Owing to its limited deformability, the elastomer-based small-scale soft robot cannot navigate through a highly restricted environment. In contrast, although fluid-based soft robots are more capable of deformation, they are also limited by the unstable shape of the fluid itself, and are therefore poorly adapted to the environment. In this study, non-Newtonian fluid-based magnetically actuated slime robots with both the adaptability of elastomer-based robots and reconfigurable significant deformation capabilities of fluid-based robots are demonstrated. The robots can negotiate through narrow channels with a diameter of 1.5 mm and maneuver on multiple substrates in complex environments. The proposed slime robot implements various functions, including grasping solid objects, swallowing and transporting harmful things, human motion monitoring, and circuit switching and repair. This study proposes the design of novel soft-bodied robots and enhances their future applications in biomedical, electronic, and other fields.

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