New miniature eco-robot cleans microplastic water

Scientists from the Netherlands have created a microrobot that can work in water and clean it of impurities – including microplastics. The device is completely “green”, it does not emit harmful substances into the environment.

Researchers at the Eindhoven University of Technology presented a tiny robot made from quick-reacting polymers; the device moves under the influence of light and gravity. It can attract and trap particles of contaminants from the surrounding fluid, including plastic microparticles. Scientists published the results of their research in the journal PNAS.

Scientists were inspired by the arrangement of coral polyps – small creatures with tentacles that make up corals in the ocean. First of all, they admired the ability to interact with the environment using sea currents. Polyp stems constantly make specific movements that attract food particles.

A wireless artificial polyp with a size of 1 by 1 cm was equipped with a stem that responds to gravity and light. Due to these factors, the robot moves its tentacles and collects small debris around itself.

Scientists are working on a larger device – an array of polyps that can work together. According to the engineers’ plan, they will be able to transport particles over long distances and transfer them to each other. Also, the robot will be able to find certain viruses that may be contained in water.

An additional advantage of the device is that it works regardless of the composition of the surrounding fluid. This is a unique property because the main material in the robot – the hydrogel – is sensitive to the environment. However, engineers were able to process it so that the material could behave identically in water of varying degrees of pollution or salinity. The effectiveness of the robot does not change.