Research ArticleSOFT ROBOTS

Millimeter-scale flexible robots with programmable three-dimensional magnetization and motions

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Science Robotics  24 Apr 2019:
Vol. 4, Issue 29, eaav4494
DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.aav4494


Flexible magnetic small-scale robots use patterned magnetization to achieve fast transformation into complex three-dimensional (3D) shapes and thereby achieve locomotion capabilities and functions. These capabilities address current challenges for microrobots in drug delivery, object manipulation, and minimally invasive procedures. However, possible microrobot designs are limited by the existing methods for patterning magnetic particles in flexible materials. Here, we report a method for patterning hard magnetic microparticles in an elastomer matrix. This method, based on ultraviolet (UV) lithography, uses controlled reorientation of magnetic particles and selective exposure to UV light to encode magnetic particles in planar materials with arbitrary 3D orientation with a geometrical feature size as small as 100 micrometers. Multiple planar microrobots with various sizes, different geometries, and arbitrary magnetization profiles can be fabricated from a single precursor in one process. Moreover, a 3D magnetization profile allows higher-order and multi-axis bending, large-angle bending, and combined bending and torsion in one sheet of polymer, creating previously unachievable shape changes and microrobotic locomotion mechanisms such as multi-arm power grasping and multi-legged paddle crawling. A physics-based model is also presented as a design tool to predict the shape changes under magnetic actuation.

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