Technology has taken massive leaps over the years, and while it has focused on improving everyday lives, a team of scientists recently came up with an innovative solution to combat a growing concern – pollution.
In southwest China, a team of scientists from the Polymer Research Institute, Sichuan University recently developed a robot fish engineered to “eat” microplastics that could potentially help clean the polluted areas in oceans.
The fish robot
The fish-shaped robot is 1.3 centimeters in size and has the ability to suck in microplastics in shallow water. It is also soft to touch. Although the prototype is black, it is illuminated by a light, allowing scientists to control the fish to help it avoid crashing into ships or other fish.
The scientists engineered the fish to not only absorb pollutants but also recover itself despite being damaged. The fish robot can swim over 2.76 body lengths per second, faster than the majority of artificial soft robots today.
If the robot fish is accidentally eaten by another fish, it can be digested as the fish is made from a biocompatible material called polyurethane.
According to Wang Yuyan, one of the researchers who developed the robot, said that the team is working to enable the robot fish to not only collect microplastics in deep water but also provide information to analyze marine pollution in real time.
“We developed such a lightweight miniaturized robot. It can be used in many ways,” said Wang. “For example, in biomedical or hazardous operations, such a small robot that can be localized to a part of your body to help you eliminate some disease.”
“We are mostly working on collection (of microplastics),” Wang added. “It is like a sampling robot and it can be used repeatedly.”
The research team has been receiving fundings from the Sichuan Natural Science Fund for Distinguished Young Scholars, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, and the National Key Research and Development Program of China.
Xinxing Zhang and his fellow researchers sought to create a new material that was durable as typical materials like elastomers and hydrogels often get easily damaged in marine environments.
The team decided to use Nacre, or mother of pearl, which is typically found inside clam shells. It contains layers of calcium carbonate mineral-polymer composites and a silk-protein filler that’s both strong and flexible.
With Nacre, the team linked cyclodextrin to sulfonated graphene, creating composite nanosheets that were converted into polyurethane latex mixtures. By adding layers, the team was able to develop the black fish robot.
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