This robot made of slime is astounding, despite looking like a ‘magnetic turd’

A screengrab of the magnetic slime robot invented by researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Courtesy / Chinese University of Hong Kong

Researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong have created a slippery and slimy robot that’s definitely not for the squeamish.

It looks a bit like a piece of feces, moves like a slug, and is designed to go into your digestive system to seek out foreign objects.

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The slightly horrifying robot, made up of slime containing magnetic particles, could one day help doctors retrieve metal items accidentally swallowed by patients.

The magnetic slime is capable of slipping through narrow spaces, encircling small objects, and has self-healing properties. It’s also a good electrical conductor and can be used to interconnect electrodes, its inventors say.

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“The ultimate goal is to deploy it like a robot,” the slime-bot’s co-creator, Li Zhang, told the Guardian.

The slime is concocted out of neodymium magnet particles, borax detergent and resin polyvinyl alcohol. The magnet particles are detoxified by a coating of silica, making them hypothetically safe for use inside the body.

The result is a “visco-elastic” product — it behaves like a liquid or solid, depending on the level of force applied.

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“When you touch it very quickly it behaves like a solid,” said Zhang. “When you touch it gently and slowly it behaves like a liquid.”

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Despite video of the robot hitting social media for the first time on April Fool’s Day, researchers insist their invention is 100 per cent real and could be beneficial in delivering targeted medications in the body, or even circuit switching and repair.

That hasn’t stopped people from being (rightfully) freaked out on social media.

“I think I’d rather have whatever was swallowed pass through naturally than ingest what looks like magnetic turd,” tweeted Dave Walsh.

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“Nope nope nope nope nope nope,” tweeted Seb Jones, with a warning about intelligent goo infamously portrayed in Hollywood movies.

Zhang, however, told The Guardian the slime lacks autonomy (for now) and assures us that we won’t be asked to put something like this in our bodies anytime soon. For now, scientists are still working to understand the goo’s material properties and said much more research is needed.


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