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Researchers at the University of California Riverside, UCR, have developed a new way of dealing with oil spills at sea. They have developed a kind of film that floats on water and is able to navigate - a floating robot in other words.
"Our motivation was to make soft robots sustainable and able to adapt on their own to changes in the environment. If sunlight is used for power, this machine is sustainable. The film is also re-usable", says Zhiwei Li chemist at UCR and one of the researchers behind the robot, in a press release.
The robot has been named Neusbot and it moves across the water by oscillating. By moving different parts of the film, the robot can get wherever it needs. The movement is created in much the same way as in steam locomotives.
A layer in the film contains iron oxide and nanotubes made of copper. The layer lets water through and when sunlight hits the film, the nanotubes heat up and the water evaporates. The steam is squeezed out of the film and creates a movement.
The sun can be used to make the robot move forward. By then using another light source, for example, strong headlights on a boat, it is possible to control which direction the robot should move.
By providing the robot with absorbent film layers, it would be possible to make it absorb oil, or all sorts of chemicals, in layers that can then be lifted onto boats.
"Neusbot could do this work like a robot vacuum, but on the water’s surface", says Zhiwei Li.