Light-activated Natural Scale Soft Caterpillar Robot

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These are the scientists from the Faculty of Physics at the University of Warsaw, utilizing the liquid crystal elastomer technology, primarily developed in the LENS Institute in Florence, illustrated a bioinspired micro-robot potential of mimicking caterpillar gaits in a natural scale. The 15-millimetre lengthy soft robot reaps energy from green light and is regulated by spatially modulated laser beam.

For decades, researchers and engineers have been trying to develop robots mimicking distinct modes of locomotion identified in nature. Most of such designs have stubborn structures and links driven by pneumatic or electric actuators. In nature, however, an enormous .number of elements navigate their habitats utilizing soft bodies, like snails, earthworms and larval insects can efficiently move in intricate environments utilizing distinct strategies. Till date, attempts to structure soft robots were constrained to bigger scale, mainly because of difficulties in power management and remote control.

Figure1: Caterpillar micro-robot sitting on finger tip

Liquid Crystalline Elastomers (LCEs) are intelligent that can showcase large shape alteration under illumination, with visible light. With the presently developed techniques, it is feasible to structure these soft materials into arbitrary three dimensional patterns with a pre-defined actuation performance. The deformation occurred due to inducement of light enables a monolithic LCE structure to carry intricate actions with varying discrete actuators.

Scientists from the University of Warsaw with members from LESN, Italy and Cambridge, United Kingdom have now introduced a natural scale size and soft caterpillar robot integrated with an opto-mechanical liquid crystalline elastomer monolithic design. The body of robot is made of light sensitive elastomer stripe with mottled molecular alignment. By regulating the travelling deformation pattern the robot reveals distinct gaits of natural relatives. It can walk through all kinds of surfaces, from sloppy to flat and squeeze through a slit, move objects as big as ten times its own volume, illustrating its potential to function in challenging environments and pointing at lucrative future applications.

Crafting soft robots looks for an entirely novel paradigm in their mechanics, control and power supply. We are only instigating to learn from nature and transform our creation approaches towards such that emerged in natural advancement – says Piotr Wasylczyk, leader of the Photonic Nanostructure Facility at the Faculty of Physics of the University of Warsaw, Poland, who is heading the project.

Conclusion – Scientists consider that rethinking materials, structure techniques and design methodologies must open up novel areas of soft robotics in millimetre and micro length scales, comprising swimmers both on the underwater and surface and even fliers. Now since the robot is regulated by light, it is now to be seen that what more applications can it serve and what all progressive activities can it perform under varying conditions.