Humans would not be where they are today without the aid of robots. The first modern and programmable robot was invented by George Devol in 1954, which lifted pieces of hot metal from die casting machines in New Jersey. Since then, robots have come a long way, now being able to sort through recycling, fly, and even reproduce on their own.
New research from Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences has revealed a new type of robot that people have been attempting to create for years: an artificial cilium. This is a short, microscopic hair-like vibrating structure, that is smaller than human hair microstructures and can respond to carrying stimuli to create complex movements.
Cilia are found on many types of cells, including types of lung cells to move mucus and particles through the structure and on some microorganisms to allow movement. Cutting-edge engineering techniques have been able to develop the artificial cilia to outmaneuver its living counterparts, showing a rare occasion where humans can outsmart nature.
“Innovations in adaptive self-regulated materials that are capable of a diverse set of programmed motions represent a very active field, which is being tackled by interdisciplinary teams of scientists and engineers,” said Joanna Aizenberg, senior author of the paper.
This robot is composed of a single material that responds to light to align and change shape causing movement. As the cilia move, light hits different parts of it and again perpetrates a cycle of shape-changing and motion. Through the adjustment of parameters like light intensity, angle, duration, and molecular alignment, a range of dynamic movements can occur.
The applications of artificial cilia span far and wide, including soft robotics, biocompatible medical devices, and even dynamic information encryption. “Advances achieved in this field may significantly impact the ways we design materials and devices for a variety of applications, including robotics, medicine, and information technologies,” explains Aizenberg.
Source study: Nature – Self-regulated non-reciprocal motions in single-material microstructures