These 3D-Printed Spiders Move and Shape-Shift Using Magnetic Fields

The things we can accomplish in the field of medicine are amazing. An ailment that would have been a death sentence years ago is now a very treatable problem, or even one we’ve gotten rid of altogether. That said, there are still many things to learn, and many strides to be made. Take, for example, this promising new advancement in the name of operating within the human body. Researchers have utilized new 3D printing technology to come up with spider-like structures that can be controlled with magnetic fields (via Geekologie).

The “spiders” (which I think look more like ashy snowflakes) are 3D-printed with a new type of 3D-printable ink that is filled with magnetic particles, which allow it to be controlled with magnetic fields. This allows researchers to control individual parts of the structure and orient it into intricate formations. So what does this have to do with the human body?

Xuanhe Zhao, the Noyce Career Development Professor in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, cites a few examples of how this could be applied: “For example, we could put a structure around a blood vessel to control the pumping of blood, or use a magnet to guide a device through the GI tract to take images, extract tissue samples, clear a blockage, or deliver certain drugs to a specific location. You can design, simulate, and then just print to achieve various functions.”

This seems to be a versatile new technology that could have significant impact on the medical field as it becomes more refined and better understood. Jerry Qi, a professor of mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech who was not involved with the paper, commented on the spiders, and he was laudatory about the research: “This work is very novel. One could use a soft robot inside a human body or somewhere that is not easily accessible. With this technology reported in this paper, one can apply a magnetic field outside the human body, without using any wiring. Because of its fast responsive speed, the soft robot can fulfill many actions in a short time. These are important for practical applications.”

What do you think about these magnetically controlled spiders? What other applications can you think of for these little guys outside of medicine? Let us know what you think down in the comments!

Featured image: MIT

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