Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, have created a robotic film that can help clean up oil spills that are harmful to the environment and marine life. The device has already undergone initial testing.
The developers' plan was to create soft robots capable of adapting to changes in the environment on their own. The robots were to receive energy from sunlight, so their lifespan would be virtually endless.
The novelty was named Neusbot, after water snakes that live on the surface of water. The main difficulty in developing it was creating a robot capable of creating adjustable mechanical vibrations, which are key to controlling the mechanism. The solution was to use a three-layer film. It works on the principle of a steam engine. The middle layer of the film is porous, which allows water and iron and copper oxide nanorods to be retained. It's these that convert light energy into heat energy and provide impulse propulsion across the surface of the water.
To prevent the robot from sinking, its bottom layer is made of hydrophobic material. In the event of strong waves or storms, it will float back to the surface in any case. Materials capable of withstanding high concentrations of salts were used in the design, making the robot suitable for ocean conditions.
The Neusbot can be guided by changing the angle of the light source. Powered solely by the sun, it can be pushed forward, while an additional light source can be used to steer it so that it changes its trajectory in the desired direction.
To use the Neusbot to clean up oil pollution, a fourth layer capable of absorbing oily or chemical substances would need to be added. The robot can then effectively clean oil spill sites, like a household hoover, by moving around on the surface of the water.
This would make it possible to clean up environmental disasters more quickly and more effectively. Currently, special ships have to be dispatched to the oil spill sites to clean them manually. This is time-consuming and they are not as effective at cleaning the surface of the water.