Pitt engineers design synthetic gel that changes shape and moves via its own internal energy
For decades, robots have advanced the efficiency of human activity. Typically, however, robots are formed from bulky, stiff materials and require connections to external power sources; these features limit their dexterity and mobility. But what if a new material would allow for development of a “soft robot” that could reconfigure its own shape and move using its own internally generated power?
By developing a new computational model, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering have designed a synthetic polymer gel that can utilize internally generated chemical energy to undergo shape-shifting and self-sustained propulsion. Their research, ” Designing Dual-functionalized Gels for Self-reconfiguration and Autonomous Motion ” (DOI: 10.1038/srep09569), was published April 30th in the journalScientific Reports, published by Nature.
The authors are Anna C. Balazs, PhD, the Swanson School’s Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering and the Robert v. d. Luft Professor; and Olga Kuksenok, PhD, Research Associate Professor.
“Movement is a fundamental biological behavior, exhibited by the simplest cell to human beings. It allows organisms to forage for food or flee from prey. But synthetic materials typically don’t have the capability for spontaneous mechanical action or the ability to store and use their own energy, factors that enable directed motion” Dr. Balazs said. “Moreover in biology, directed movement involves some form of shape changes, such as the expansion and contraction of muscles. So we asked whether we could mimic these basic interconnected functions in a synthetic system so that it could simultaneously change its shape and move.”
As a simple example in nature, Drs. Balazs and Kuksenok use the single-celled organism euglena mutabilis, which processes energy to expand and contract its shape in order to move. To mimic the euglena’s mobility, Drs. Balazs and Kuksenok looked to polymer gels containing spirobenzopyran (SP) since these materials can be morphed into different shapes with the use of light, and to Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ) gels, a material first fabricated in the late 1990s that not only undergoes periodic pulsations, but also can be driven to move in the presence of light.
“The BZ gel encompasses an internalized chemical reaction so that when you supply reagents, this gel can undergo self-sustained motion,” Dr. Kuksenok explains. “Although researchers have previously created polymer chains with both the SP and BZ functionality, this is the first time they were combined to explore the ability of “SP-BZ” gels to change shape and move in response to light.”
As Balazs and Kuksenok noted, these systems are distinctive because they not only undergo self-bending or folding, but also self-propelled motion. Namely, the material integrates the powerful attributes of each of the components-the ability of SP-functionalized gels to be “molded” with light and the autonomous mechanical actions of the BZ gels.
According to Dr. Balazs, there were unexpected results during their research. “Uniform light exposure won’t work. We had to place the light at the right place in order for the gel to move. And if we change the pattern of the light, the gel displays a tumbling motion.
“We also found that if we placed the SP in certain regions of the BZ gel and exposed this material to light, we could create new types of self-folding behavior.” The next phase of the research will be to combine the patterning of the SP and BZ functionality in the gels with the patterning of the light to expand the polymer’s repertoire of motion.
Dr. Balazs adds that these SP-BZ gels could enable the creation of small-scale soft robotics for microfluidic devices that can help carry out multi-stage chemical reactions.
“Scientists are interested in designing biomimetic systems that are dissipative – they use energy to perform a function, much like our metabolism allows us to carry out different functions,” she explained. “The next push in materials science is to mimic these internal metabolic processes in synthetic materials, and thereby, create man-made materials that take in energy, transform this energy and autonomously perform work, just as in biological systems.”
The benefit of using polymer gels instead of metals and alloys to build a robot is that it greatly reduces its mass, improves its potential range of motion and allows for a more “graceful” device.
Read more: Toward a squishier robot
The Latest on: Soft robots
via Google News
The Latest on: Soft robots
- Watch this robot hand sweat to beat the heaton February 3, 2020 at 1:15 pm
For now, the principles explored suggest there’s real benefit in developing soft robots that can better handle heat. Retaining flexibility and durability in robotic limbs despite increases in ...
- Sweating Robot Beats the Heaton January 31, 2020 at 3:47 am
Electronics cannot handle the heat. That is why computers rely on fans, and car engines need radiators. But these cooling devices are necessarily rigid, which makes them a bad fit for soft robots made ...
- New Soft Robot Hands Can ‘Sweat’ To Lower Temperatureon January 30, 2020 at 2:49 pm
Scientists from Cornell University have created a soft robotic hand with the ability to autonomously regulate its internal temperature. Even better, its 3-D printed.
- Robot sweat regulates temperature, key for extreme conditionson January 30, 2020 at 8:21 am
Just when it seemed like robots couldn't get any cooler, researchers have created a soft robot muscle that can regulate its temperature through sweating. Just when it seemed like robots couldn't get ...
- Robot hand keeps itself cool by sweatingon January 30, 2020 at 8:02 am
But not all robots are hard and rigid, some are soft and pliable. And some are a mix of both. Either way, temperature control is an important design consideration. Metal can be incorporated to ...
- Robot hand 'sweats' to stay coolon January 30, 2020 at 6:27 am
Scientists have created a soft robot muscle that sweats to stay cool and mimics the movement of a hand. The researchers, from Cornell University i n New York, developed the robot hand from ...
- This robot hand can 'sweat' to stay coolon January 30, 2020 at 6:27 am
Cornell researchers have created a soft robot muscle that can regulate its temperature through sweating. The researchers, from Cornell University i n New York, developed the robot hand from ...
- Soft robot keeps cool by replicating sweatingon January 30, 2020 at 1:31 am
The human body’s ability to regulate temperature through sweating has inspired engineers to replicate the process in soft robot muscle. A Cornell team made a 3D-printed hand with hydraulically ...
- Soft robot sweats autonomously to prevent overheatingon January 29, 2020 at 5:50 pm
Just when it seemed like robots couldn’t get any cooler, Cornell University researchers have created a soft robot muscle that can regulate its temperature through sweating. This form of thermal ...
- These Soft Robots 'Sweat' to Keep Coolon January 29, 2020 at 3:09 pm
This innovative concept could improve the durability and endurance of robots, while also allowing them to work in extreme environments. A soft robotic hand that sweats to keep cool is the subject ...
via Bing News