New robot concept uses responsive materials to swim through water
Engineers at Caltech and ETH Zurich have developed robots capable of self-propulsion without using any motors, servos, or power supply. Instead, these first-of-their-kind devices paddle through water as the material they are constructed from deforms with temperature changes.
The work blurs the boundary between materials and robots. In the self-propelled devices, the material itself makes the machine function. "Our examples show that we can use structured materials that deform in response to environmental cues, to control and propel robots," says Daraio, professor of mechanical engineering and applied physics in Caltech's Division of Engineering and Applied Science, and corresponding author of a paper unveiling the robots that appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on May 15.
The new propulsion system relies on strips of a flexible polymer that is curled when cold and stretches out when warm. The polymer is positioned to activate a switch inside the robot's body, that is in turn attached to a paddle that rows it forward like a rowboat.
The switch is made from a bistable element, which is a component that can be stable in two distinct geometries. In this case, it is built from strips of an elastic material that, when pushed on by the polymer, snaps from one position to another.
When the cold robot is placed in warm water, the polymer stretches out, activates the switch, and the resulting sudden release of energy paddles the robot forward. The polymer strips can also be "tuned" to give specific responses at different times: that is, a thicker strip will take longer to warm up, stretch out, and ultimately activate its paddle than a thinner strip. This tunability allows the team to design robots capable of turning and moving at different speeds.
The research builds on previous work by Daraio and Dennis Kochmann, professor of aerospace at Caltech. They used chains of bistable elements to transmit signals and build computer-like logic gates.
In the latest iteration of the design, Daraio's team and collaborators were able to link up the polymer elements and switches in such a way to make a four-paddled robot propel itself forward, drop off a small payload (in this case, a token with a Caltech seal emblazoned on it), and then paddle backward.
"Combining simple motions together, we were able to embed programming into the material to carry out a sequence of complex behaviors," says Caltech postdoctoral scholar Osama R. Bilal, co-first author of the PNAS paper.
In the future, more functionalities and responsivities can be added, for example using polymers that respond to other environmental cues, like pH or salinity. Future versions of the robots could contain chemical spills or, on a smaller scale, deliver drugs, the researchers say.
Currently, when the bistable elements snap and release their energy, they must be manually reset in order to work again. Next, the team plans to explore ways to redesign the bistable elements so that they are self-resetting when water temperature shifts again--making them potentially capable of swimming on indefinitely, so long as water temperature keeps fluctuating.
The PNAS paper is titled "Harnessing bistability for directional propulsion of soft, untethered robots." Daraio and Bilal collaborated with Tian Chen and Kristina Shea from ETH in Zurich. This research was supported by the Army Research Office and an ETH postdoctoral fellowship to Bilal.
Video available at: https:/
Robert Perkins | EurekAlert!
Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern
20.07.2018 | Princeton University
Relax, just break it
20.07.2018 | DOE/Argonne National Laboratory
A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.
The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...
For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.
To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...
For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.
Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...
Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.
A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...
Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.
"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....
13.07.2018 | Event News
12.07.2018 | Event News
03.07.2018 | Event News
20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
20.07.2018 | Information Technology
20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences