National Science Foundation features research by Evans on using magnetics to control 'soft robots'

A manuscript coauthored by Ben Evans, associate professor of physics, was featured as a Top Story on the NSF's Science360 News. 

Research by Ben Evans, associate professor of physics, into how to use magnetic devices to control soft robots, has been featured as a top story by the National Science Foundation’s Science360 News

​The article highlights the work by Evans and Joseph Tracy, associate professor of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at N.C. State University, using magnetic fields to remotely manipulate microparticle chains embedded in soft robotic devices. 

Soft robotics is a relatively new field in which robotic devices are composed of flexible elements rather than rigid components. These new structures may enable new behaviors, such as novel forms of locomotion, actively-reconfigurable surfaces, or access to challenging terrain.

The current manuscript detailing the research builds on previous work by Evans in magnetically-actuated biomimetic cilia to develop new macroscopic magnetic devices which may be controlled with an external magnetic field. In these devices, magnetic microparticles are assembled into continuous magnetic chains within a polymer matrix, and these chains result in enhanced magnetic control over the materials.

A graphic demonstrating the use of magnetic devices in soft robotics. 
Devices demonstrated in the current manuscript include an extensible/compressible magnetic accordion (artificial muscle), a cantilevered magnetic lifter (articulated joint), and a compressible magnetic tube (peristaltic pump). These devices serve as proof-of-principle for further advances in the field.

Tracy and his team developed the novel magnetic materials and devices presented in the manuscript, and Evans applied the theoretical model to describe their performance and developed a new figure of merit for magnetic actuators which will be useful in accelerating progress in the field of magnetic soft robotics. 

Titled “Chained Iron Microparticles for Directionally Controlled Actuation of Soft Robots,” the manuscript was published March 28 in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.

The research will be highlighted during the opening keynote address Evans is scheduled to deliver at the Colonial Academic Alliance’s Undergraduate Research Conference to be held at Elon on March 31 and April 1.