Research ArticleMICROROBOTS

Reconfigurable magnetic microrobot swarm: Multimode transformation, locomotion, and manipulation

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Science Robotics  20 Mar 2019:
Vol. 4, Issue 28, eaav8006
DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.aav8006


Swimming microrobots that are energized by external magnetic fields exhibit a variety of intriguing collective behaviors, ranging from dynamic self-organization to coherent motion; however, achieving multiple, desired collective modes within one colloidal system to emulate high environmental adaptability and enhanced tasking capabilities of natural swarms is challenging. Here, we present a strategy that uses alternating magnetic fields to program hematite colloidal particles into liquid, chain, vortex, and ribbon-like microrobotic swarms and enables fast and reversible transformations between them. The chain is characterized by passing through confined narrow channels, and the herring school–like ribbon procession is capable of large-area synchronized manipulation, whereas the colony-like vortex can aggregate at a high density toward coordinated handling of heavy loads. Using the developed discrete particle simulation methods, we investigated generation mechanisms of these four swarms, as well as the “tank-treading” motion of the chain and vortex merging. In addition, the swarms can be programmed to steer in any direction with excellent maneuverability, and the vortex’s chirality can be rapidly switched with high pattern stability. This reconfigurable microrobot swarm can provide versatile collective modes to address environmental variations or multitasking requirements; it has potential to investigate fundamentals in living systems and to serve as a functional bio-microrobot system for biomedicine.

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