A research team led by Xu Qingsong, professor in the Department of Electromechanical Engineering of the Faculty of Science and Technology at the University of Macau (UM), has developed a novel on-demand hardening magnetic soft robot. With the advantages of on-demand hardening and flexible deployment, the robot not only can perform a given task alone with high output forces, but can also be used in conjunction with existing surgical robots, representing a significant advance in the design and application of magnetically controlled robots. The research results have been published in Research, an internationally renowned journal under Science.
Magnetically controlled robots have shown great advantages in medical applications because of their wireless actuation and control characteristics. However, in actual clinical applications, existing magnetically controlled soft robots have limitations, such as limited functions, small output force, and low structural stiffness. Therefore, there is an urgent need for more flexible and adaptive deployment strategies and design methods to fully utilise the performance of magnetically controlled robots and improve their functions. The magnetically controlled soft robot developed by Prof Xu’s research team is capable of switching its stiffness quickly and in a controlled manner, adhering flexibly to the surface of various objects, and providing powerful output forces. The research results offer a promising way to enable magnetically controlled robots to perform more powerful control functions.
The research team’s experimental results show that using a mixture of magnetic particles and non-Newtonian fluidic soft materials to produce magnetic soft robots can achieve programmable hardening, controlled adhesion, soft reconfiguration, and other properties. By applying an external magnetic field, a 1-gram magnetic soft robot can leverage its adhesion and magnetic actuation to pick up an object 300 times its weight. The soft robot can adhere to a variety of object surfaces, enabling the ability of magnetic actuation with improved performance. The soft robot can be used in conjunction with traditional surgical robots to provide precise magnetic navigation and control, as well as a broader range of functions, including adhesion grasping and related operations. In addition, the non-Newtonian properties of the soft robot can be activated by applying a rapidly changing wireless magnetic field. This enables the robot to change between fluid and solid forms in real time and a controlled manner, facilitating swift liquid-solid phase transitions.
The magnetic soft robot developed by Prof Xu’s research team has the following advantages: 1) It has an ultra-soft structure and good adhesion properties that allow flexible deployment, and it can be used in collaboration with existing surgical equipment; 2) Its adhesion properties can be controlled and adjusted by an external magnetic field, which helps perform more functions; 3) It can achieve swift programmable hardening and improve its mechanical strength and stiffness, and provide significant output forces. According to the research team, the realisation of a powerful magnetically controlled robot is of great value for advanced medical applications, and the proposed design ideas and utilisation strategies have reference significance for research in the field.
Prof Xu Qingsong is the corresponding author of the study, and Xu Zichen, a PhD student in the Department of Electromechanical Engineering of UM’s Faculty of Science and Technology, is the first author. PhD student Chen Yuanhe also contributed to the study. The research project was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (File no: 52175556), the Science and Technology Development Fund of the Macao SAR (File no: 0102/2022/A2, 0004/2022/AKP, and 0153/2019/A3), and UM (File no: MYRG2022-00068-FST and MYRG-CRG2022-00004-FST-ICI). The full version of the research article can be viewed at: https://spj.science.org/doi/abs/10.34133/research.0262.
UM PhD student wins Best Conference Paper Award at IEEE International Conference on Development and Learning 2023
Mr. Zhengyang Li, a PhD student from the Department of Electromechanical Engineering (EME), Faculty of Science and Technology (FST), University of Macau (UM), has won the Best Conference Paper Award at the IEEE International Conference on Development and Learning (ICDL 2023), Macau, China.
The IEEE International Conference on Development and Learning (ICDL) is a joint conference of the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society (RAS) and IEEE Computational Intelligence Society (CIS). ICDL 2023 received an overwhelming number of over 130 papers all around the world. After rigorous evaluation and competitive presentation, two awards including the Best Conference Paper Award and Best Student Paper are selected from the nominated award finalists, with less than one percent of the researchers winning these honors. The Best Conference Paper Award honors the best two papers in the conference.
In the finalist presentation section, Mr. Zhengyang Li represented the research group by presenting a paper titled “Intelligent Magnetic Control and Surgical Planning of a Multi-Segment Robotic Catheter for Endovascular Intervention”. The research proposed a multi-segment magnetic soft catheter robot targeted for cardiovascular therapy. The intelligent control framework combines the adaptive control method and preoperative surgical planning, which successfully navigates the magnetic catheter robot in a human-sized arterial model. Its novelty and promising potential in both clinical and training applications are fully recognized by the conference’s committees and receive widespread attention from the robotics community.
This research is supervised by Prof. Qingsong Xu, Professor of Department of Electromechanical Engineering and conducted in the Smart and Micro/Nano Systems Laboratory at the University of Macau. The work is jointly sponsored by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Science and Technology Development Fund of Macau, and the University of Macau. This award not only shows the profound strength of Faculty of Science and Technology in technological innovation and industrial application, but also demonstrates the outstanding contribution made by the University of Macau’s cutting-edge research in the field of automation to the upgrading of the robotics and health care industry in Macau and even internationally.
The IEEE International Conference on Development and Learning (ICDL) constitutes an important forum for robotics and intelligent computing society. Its goal is to investigate how biological agents take advantage of interaction with social and physical environments to improve the robotic and computing systems. IEEE ICDL 2023 was held in Macau, China. The first day was held in the E4 building of the University of Macau. Many famous scholars in the field of robotics around the world attended the conference and gave a speech at the University of Macau.