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Scientists Create Microplastic-Eating Fish Robots

by Rudy Sanchez on 06/27/2022 | 2 Minute Read

Science fiction writer Issac Asimov introduced the concept of fundamental rules that create explicit ethical boundaries for robots. Simply put, robots are bound by The Three Laws of Robotics, which prevent them from allowing harm to humans, mandate following human orders that don’t violate the First Law, and compels robots to protect themselves so long as it doesn’t conflict with the First or Second Laws. 

A new robot designed by researchers in China seems to have been designed with Asimov’s Laws of Robotics in mind, as it dutifully swims into plastic garbage, absorbing it while being able to self-heal.

Scientists from Sichuan University, Sichuan Agricultural University, Northwestern Polytechnical University, and the Dresden University of Technology described the swimming micro-robots in a paper recently published in the journal Nano Letters. Scientists designed the 12.5mm-long and 75 micrometers thick fish-shaped robots using a durable material inspired by the interior of clam shells that attracts and absorbs microplastics as they contain dyes and heavy metals. The material used to create the robots responds to laser light emitted from the tail, and the fish bots can swim as fast as plankton and pull 5kg in weight.

The plastic-eating robots have to clear a few more hurdles before deployment, leader author Yuyan Wang told The Guardian, noting that the fish bots can only swim on the surface, with researchers still working on a version that can swim underwater. The project is a breakthrough and can serve as a base or inspiration for similar projects.

“I think nanotechnology holds great promise for trace adsorption, collection, and detection of pollutants, improving intervention efficiency while reducing operating costs,” Wang told The Guardian.

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