Newly Discovered Technique to Power Miniature Robots

Researchers create clean energy source taking inspiration from wine legs

Miniature robots are being developed to help in environmental cleanups such as cleaning of waterbodies. A major problem faced by engineers to find a clean lightweight and compact fuel sources to power the robots.

According to a study published in the journal Langmuir in October 2017, a team of engineers from the East China Normal University in Shanghai developed a chemical motor to guide lightweight robots along the surface of a waterbody.

The miniature motor works on a phenomenon called Marangoni effect, which is an effect of interaction between two liquids with strong surface tensions.

The Marangoni effect is commonly seen when wine in a glass is swirled, giving rise to an effect called wine legs. The liquids are seen to slip and slide alongside each other instead of mixing with each other.

The engineers found that a similar effect can be created on adding concentrated droplets of polyvinylidene fluoride and dimethylformamide (PVDF/DMF) solutions. The droplets interacted with water, without dissolving in it and sat at the surface of water, spinning rapidly.  This rapid spinning was similar to the motion of a motor.

They then tested the chemical motor by dropping the solution on the tail of lightweight paper rockets and paper goldfish in a petri dish. The minirobots were seen zipping around the dish in wide circles.

Scientists also attempted to generate electricity using PVDF/DMF droplets. They hooked an electromagneton to a four-armed stirrer on top of a spinning droplet. The stirrer was able to generate electricity through its whirling.

The chemical does not release any harmful gasses or cause pollution in any form. This provides potential of emerging as a new source of clean energy.

This technique is clean, however, it can only power an object for a few minutes, making it ill-equipped for industrial use yet. The goal of the study was to discover a new technique for powering miniature motors, which was successful. Further research would soon make lightweight robots skimming across waterbodies a reality.

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