This 3D Printed Smart Gel Walks Underwater and Moves Objects

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Engineers at Rutgers University have created a 3D printed smart gel that walks underwater. It can also grab objects and move them.

If you’re looking for some nightmare dreamscape material, try this on for size. Rutgers University researchers have invented a 3D printed smart gel that can walk underwater, grab objects, and move them around. Creepy, eh?

The watery creation could lead to soft robots that can walk underwater and bump into things without damaging them. It could also lead to artificial heart, stomach and other muscles. That, plus devices for diagnosing diseases, detecting and delivering drugs, and performing underwater inspections.

Key advantages to soft materials like the smart gel is that they are flexible, easy to miniaturize, and often cheaper to manufacture than hard materials. Devices made of soft materials are typically simple to design and control compared with mechanically more complex hard devices.

“Our 3D printed smart gel has great potential in biomedical engineering because it resembles tissues in the human body that also contain lots of water and are very soft,” says Howon Lee, senior author of a new study and an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

“It can be used for many different types of underwater devices that mimic aquatic life like the octopus.”

3D Printed Smart Gel is Activated by Electricity

The study, published online in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, focuses on a 3D printed hydrogel that moves and changes shape when activated by electricity. Hydrogels can stay solid despite their 70-plus percent water content.

During the 3D printing process, light is projected on a light-sensitive solution that becomes a gel. The hydrogel is placed in a salty water solution (or electrolyte) and two thin wires apply electricity to trigger motion; walking forward, reversing course, and grabbing and moving objects. The humanoid walker that the team created is about one inch tall.

The speed of the smart gel’s movement is controlled by changing its dimensions (thin is faster than thick), and the gel bends or changes shape depending on the strength of the salty water solution and electric field. The gel resembles muscles that contract because it’s made of soft material, has more than 70 percent water, and responds to electrical stimulation.

“This study demonstrates how our 3D printing technique can expand the design, size and versatility of this smart gel,” says Lee.

“Our microscale 3D printing technique allowed us to create unprecedented motions.”

Source: Rutgers Today

License: The text of “This 3D Printed Smart Gel Walks Underwater and Moves Objects” by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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