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Video: Scientists develop ‘magnetic slime robot’ to deploy inside human body

Magnetic slime robot (Twitter/Screenshot)
April 01, 2022

Scientists have developed a “magnetic slime robot” capable of traversing small spaces and clinging to solid objects which could be deployed inside the human body.

In a study published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials last week, researchers described the slime as “magnetic miniature soft-bodied robots [that] allow non-invasive access to restricted spaces and provide ideal solutions for minimally invasive surgery, micromanipulation, and targeted drug delivery.”

“A robot made of magnetic slime could be deployed inside the body to perform tasks such as retrieving objects swallowed by accident,” New Scientist tweeted along with video of the slime robot.

In the study, researchers wrote that “the proposed slime robot implements various functions, including grasping solid objects, swallowing and transporting harmful things, human motion monitoring, and circuit switching and repair.”

They also noted that the “robots can negotiate through narrow channels with a diameter of 1.5 mm and maneuver on multiple substrates in complex environments.”

“This study proposes the design of novel soft-bodied robots and enhances their future applications in biomedical, electronic, and other fields,” it stated.

According to Newsweek, the slime was developed using a mixture of a polymer called polyvinyl alcohol, borax and magnetic particles made from neodymium, a rare Earth metal.  

One of the slime’s creators, Li Zhang, told The Guardian that the robot is “visco-elastic,” meaning that it can behave like both a solid and a liquid.

“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.

“The ultimate goal is to deploy it like a robot,” Zhang continued, adding that the robot does not have autonomy yet. “We still consider it as fundamental research—trying to understand its material properties.”

The slime’s magnetic particles are also toxic, so the robot is coated in silica to act as a supposedly protective layer.

“The safety [would] also strongly depend on how long you would keep them inside of your body,” Zhang said.

Video of the robot slime raised eyebrows on Twitter. Self-described documentarian Ford Fischer mocked the futuristic slime, calling it “the glob.”

“‘Be not afraid of the living, controllable robot glob that can slither into your body,” he tweeted. “The glob is your friend. The glob only wants to help.’”

A pair of podcasting brothers known as The Hodgetwins responded to the video with a gif from the science fiction film “The Terminator.”