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In a paper in Science Robotics, materials scientists from the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering describe a new design for a swimming robot that's both powered and steered by constant light.
The device, called OsciBot because it moves by oscillating its tail, could eventually lead to designs for oceangoing robots and autonomous ships. Its design is inspired by a natural phenomenon called phototaxis—movement toward or away from a light source—that is found throughout the animal kingdom. Both jellyfish and moths, for example, are attracted to light.
OsciBot - Oscillation - Light - Energy - Battery
OsciBot demonstrates that moving by oscillation can be directly powered constant light, rather than relying on light energy that has been harvested and stored in a battery. It's made entirely of a soft material called a hydrogel that swells when placed in water and is responsive to light. The device does not require batteries or need to be tethered to another power source.
The researchers' first goal was to determine whether they could create a new way to use a constant energy source to get an object to move in an oscillating pattern.
Cylinder - Bottom - Water - Tank - Beam
To do that, they built a 2-centimeter-long flexible cylinder and anchored it to the bottom of a water tank. When they directed a beam of light at the cylinder, they found that the light made it bend as fast as 66 times per minute—and that by moving the position of the light source, they could direct the device to bend both left and right and up and down.
The researchers also determined that the speed at which the device oscillates can be adjusted based on the cylinder's length and thickness as well as how much light is used.
Understanding - Motion - Team - Hydrogel - Robot
Armed with an understanding of how to create the oscillating motion, the team used the same hydrogel to build a robot shaped like a rectangular surfboard, with an extended...
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