Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a soft robot that moves in a manner that is strikingly reminiscent of a caterpillar. According to the information provided in the research paper that was published in Science Advances by [Shuang Wu] and his colleagues, the robot that they developed is made up of a layer of liquid crystalline elastomers (LCE) and polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS). Embedded within this layer is a silver nanowire that functions as a heater.
LCE and PDMS sides in order to give a highly regulated deformation and, consequently, motion
In this manner, the LCE is designed to function as a thermal bimorph actuator. This design makes use of a unique thermal expansion coefficient between the LCE and PDMS sides in order to provide a highly controlled deformation and, consequently, motion. The exact deformation may be relatively closely controlled because to the fact that the nanowire is broken into pieces that can be separately heated. This makes it possible for the nanowire to move in a crawling motion.
The motion is characterized by a distinct caterpillar-like quality, as can be seen in the video that follows. Moreover, it is rather swift and highly efficient. Although while the present prototype gets its juice from control cables that are connected to the outside of the device, it’s feasible that a power source and control circuitry may be integrated inside a robot that operates on its own. Because the heater operates on a low voltage of 5 V and requires a very little amount of electricity, it would appear that functioning without any external power source is easily doable.