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Microplastic is a huge environmental issue and it affects the ecosystems heavily. Removing them can be tricky and many new-thinking methods have been created. Now, a team of scientists from Sichuan University have designed and programmed a robotic fish that removes microplastics from the water while it swims.
This robot is self-propelled and it tracks down, latches on to and removes free floating microplastics from the water. With the microplastics it traps, the tiny robot can repair itself from damages it acquires while working.
“It is of great significance to develop a robot to accurately collect and sample detrimental microplastic pollutants from the aquatic environment. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first example of such soft robots,” said Yuyan Wang, a researcher at the Polymer Research Institute of Sichuan University and one of the lead authors of the study to The Guardian.
Thanks to the laser system in its tail the half-an-inch-long (13 mm) robot can swim around at 30mm per second, which is the same speed as some planktons. The Guardian writes that “the researchers created the robot from materials inspired by elements that thrive in the sea: mother-of-pearl, also known as nacre, which is the interior covering of clam shells. The team created a material similar to nacre by layering various microscopic sheets of molecules according to nacre’s specific chemical gradient.”
Up to 89% of the microplastics the robot catches can be used to repair itself. This helps with its efficiency. One of the most important qualities is that the fish analyzes the different types of plastic collected and by doing so, can give researchers more information in the fight against microplastic pollution.
If you want to read the whole study, you can do it here: ACS Publications — Robust, Healable, Self-Locomotive Integrated Robots Enabled by Noncovalent Assembled Gradient Nanostructure | Nano Letters (acs.org)