Squishy, hydrogel robots that flap, squeeze, and kick when pumped with water could be the next medical breakthrough.

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Searching for inspiration while developing their hydrogel, MIT researchers looked at glass eels; these tiny, transparent larvae are soft and migrate unscathed over long distances in their river habitats. Researchers are hoping that, because hydrogels are less invasive interfaces with human organs, they will be able, through collaboration with medical scientists, to create soft “hands” to aid in delicately manipulating tissues and organs during surgeries.

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Currently, the robot has been able to sneak up on and grab a goldfish, not the most practical application (although cool, see the video here).

However, it is encouraging, as this is just the beginning. The team is now dreaming up various applications for the hydrogel robots, while also playing around with the hydrogel recipe to customize it for different uses.

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