Reaching 48 cm/min
Once printed, the soft robot was put through its paces with a number of performance tests. The researchers found that it exhibited a very strong driving force, which allowed it to climb a 20° ramp and carry a load significantly heavier than itself. Eventually, the team 4D printed several robots and raced them against each other, finding that the length of a robot had a huge effect on its velocity. One of the longer robots, spanning 10cm long, managed to reach 48 cm/min on a flat surface.
“We processed the liquid crystal elastomers into samples of various shapes through 4D printing and stimulated these samples with light, heat, and electricity to observe their response,” Feng added. “We found many interesting driving phenomena besides deformation.”
As far as future applications go, the Tianjin researchers hope to see their soft robots performing work in confined spaces such as pipes or in extreme conditions above 200°C. Feng concludes, “We hope that soft robots will no longer be limited to simple actuators, which can only change shape in a fixed position.”
Further details of the study can be found in the paper titled ‘4D-printed untethered self-propelling soft robot with tactile perception: Rolling, racing, and exploring’.