These Soft Robots can Move on Their Own!
Houston: Researchers led by a University of Houston engineer have reported a new class of soft robot, which can move on its own. It is composed of ultrathin sensing, actuating electronics. The temperature-sensitive artificial muscle helps the robot adapt to the environment and crawl. The movement is similar to the movement of an inchworm or caterpillar.
Cunjiang Yu, Bill D. Cook Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering, said potential applications range from surgery and rehabilitation to search and rescue in natural disasters or on the battlefield. Because the robot body changes shape in response to its surroundings, it can slip through narrow crevices to search for survivors in the rubble left by an earthquake or bombing, he said.
“They sense the change in environment and adapt to slip through,” he said.
These soft robots, made of soft artificial muscle and ultrathin deformable sensors and actuators, have significant advantages over the traditional rigid robots used for automation and other physical tasks.
The researchers said their work, published in the journal Advanced Materials, took its inspiration from nature. “Many creatures, such as inchworms that have completely soft compliant bodies without any rigid components (e.g., bones), exhibit unprecedented abilities in adapting their shapes and morphologies and unique locomotion behaviors,” they wrote.
Traditional soft robots lack the ability to adapt to their environments or move on their own.
The prototype adaptive soft robot includes a liquid crystal elastomer, doped with carbon black nanoparticles to enhance thermal conductivity, as the artificial muscle, combined with ultrathin mesh shaped stretchable thermal actuators and silicon-based light sensors. The thermal actuators provide heat to activate the robot.
The work was funded by the National Science Foundation and the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund Doctoral New Investigator Grant