For Architectural Digest, by Nick Mafi.
All it takes is one reading of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea—in which the protagonist goes 84 days without catching a fish—to understand that fishing is not a simple enterprise. It requires a combination of skill, patience, and luck. But what if a robot could do all of the work for you? Better yet, what if that robot were 3-D printed? A group of researchers have developed just such a bot—one that can catch fish now and, someday, maybe save your life.
By studying the evolution of eels, scientists at MIT created a robot made of a tough, rubbery, nearly transparent material called hydrogel. They connected a number of hydrogel tubes into a handlike structure that, when filled with and drained of water, opens and closes much like a human fist. When the robot is submerged, it can easily float near a fish without being noticed, as it’s virtually invisible. Once water is pumped through, the “hand” closes so quickly that the fish doesn’t have time to escape. Animal lovers will be relieved to know that hydrogel is an extremely soft material, and that once the grip is released, the fish can easily swim away unharmed.
The researchers are currently looking to adapt the hydrogel robots into cutting-edge medical devices. Since the material is soft and biocompatible, the group believes it can be manipulated to form within or on top of human organs. For now, however, it’s the catching and releasing of fish that’s making a splash.
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