Researchers at Caltech and at Harvard have developed soft robotic systems, inspired by origami, that can move and change shape in response to external stimuli, paving the way for fully untethered soft robots.
Through sequential folds, origami can encode multiple shapes and functionalities in a single structure. Using materials known as liquid crystal elastomers that change shape when exposed to heat, the research team 3D-printed two types of soft hinges that fold at different temperatures and thus can be programmed to fold in a specific order.
While this research only focused on temperature responses, liquid crystal elastomers can also be programmed to respond to light, pH, humidity, and other external stimuli.
“In the future, such materials can be programmed to perform ever more complex tasks, blurring the boundaries between materials and robots,” said Caltech’s Chiara Daraio, professor of mechanical engineering and applied physics and co-lead author of the study.
This research was supported by the Army Research Office, the Harvard Materials Research Science and Engineering Center through the National Science Foundation, and the NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship.