As the world contemplates ways to deploy robots to help with dangerous tasks such as large-scale cleanups or search and rescue missions, scientists are also wondering how repair machines if they come into danger. We have seen jelly before polymers used to create robotic hands that can repair themselves after a violent infliction. And, “organic” androids made from stem cells that can regenerate and stitch together when sliced. The last breakthrough involves tiny microbots that can magnetically “heal” themselves on the fly after separating, without the help of humans.
Researchers at UC San Diego did this by creating 2cm long swimming robots shaped like a fish and made up of three layers. The bottom and top contained a conductive part and a top strip of magnetic microparticles, respectively, with a hydrophobic middle layer wedged in between. They also added platinum to the tail, which reacted with hydrogen peroxide to form oxygen bubbles that propelled the robot.
The tiny swimmer was then able to move around in a Petri dish containing a weak hydrogen peroxide solution. To observe its healing abilities, scientists cut the bot with a blade. The results, full screen in the video above, show the disembodied tail moving around until it approaches the rest of the pieces, reforming through magnetic interaction. It could also reassemble when cut into three parts or when the magnetic strip was placed in a different position, the researchers said. As for its future impact, advancement could see the capacity incorporated into other, larger robots which could then continue to do their jobs if they were somehow halved.