Scientists at Dartmouth College and City University of Hong Kong have created a tiny 3D-printed flying whale robot that incorporates a flukes-like tail and wings that can fold up or down as required.
The robot’s tail is covered with a layer of cardiomyocytes (heart cells), whereas its wings are coated with a light-sensitive hydrogel. As the cells beat in harmony, like they would in the heart, they cause the flexible tail to move up and down.
The moving of tail causes the robot to move forward through a liquid environment, with its extended wings providing lift. The wings stay extended as long as the device remains in a dark environment.
If the gel on the wings is exposed to skin-penetrating near-infrared light, it changes state and causes the wings to curl down. The curling down of wings, in turn, reduces lift while also creating drag.
Hence slowing down the device’s forward movement and letting its drug cargo to be released at the specified spot. During tests, the robot was successfully able to conduct targeted drug delivery against cancer cells.
“With this technology we can create soft transformable robots with unprecedented maneuverability,” said researcher Zi Chen. “Our inspiration came from transformable toys that have different configurations and functionality. The result is no toy, it may literally change people’s lives.”
Currently, the team is now working on a system that will permit them to curl each of the wings individually, therefore increasing the device’s maneuverability.