Superhumans don’t exist in the real world, but someday you might see super robots. Obviously, robots can be made that are stronger, faster and better than humans, but do you think there is a limit to how much better we can make them?
Thanks to ongoing developments in materials science and soft robotics, scientists are now developing new technologies that may allow the robots of the future to push the boundaries of non-human biology. For example, a team of researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder recently developed a material that could lead to soft robots capable of jumping up to 200 times their own thickness. The grasshopper, one of the most amazing jumpers on Earth, can only jump up to 20 times its body length in the air.
Despite outperforming insects, the researchers behind the rubber-like jumping material say they took inspiration from grasshoppers. Similar to an insect, the material stores a large amount of energy in the field and then releases it all at once when leaping.
discovered by chance
The rubber-like film is made of liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs), special materials composed of cross-linked polymer networks. These exhibit properties of elastomers (used to make tyres, adhesives and soft robots) and liquid crystals (used to make TV displays, artificial muscles and microbots) and are highly sensitive to various external stimuli. There are Overall, LCEs are stronger, more flexible, and better actuators than conventional elastomers.
The study’s first author, Taylor Hebner, and his colleagues were investigating LCEs and their ability to change shape. He had no intention of building a jumping robot at the time, but he noticed an interesting behavior of the LCE. “We were just looking at the liquid crystal elastomer sitting on a hot plate and wondering why it wasn’t forming the shape we expected. It suddenly jumped from the test stage straight to the countertop,” Hebner said in a news release. Went.
Upon contact with the hot spot, the material first bent and flipped, and then suddenly, within the next six milliseconds, it leapt into the air to a height of about 200 times its thickness.
Researchers realized that LCEs were responsive to heat, which led to the development of locust-like materials. Commenting on these findings, materials science expert Hameed Shahsawan of the University of Waterloo, who was not involved in the study, told Ars Technica, “LCEs are generally responsive to heat or light. also uses heat to generate the energy needed for
Does the material jump?
According to the researchers, the grasshopper-like material is made of three elastomer layers and liquid crystals. When the material is heated, the elastomer layers begin to shrink but the rate of shrinkage is faster in the upper two layers, which are less rigid than the lower layer. Meanwhile, the liquid crystals also begin to shrink. As a result of these asymmetrical changes, a cone-like formation appears near the legs at the back of the robot’s body.
The four corners of the robot are attached to four legs: two short legs in the front and two long legs in the back. According to the researchers, compared to short legs, the longer hind legs offer a higher point of contact, allowing the snap-through force to lift the material at a desired angle.
A large amount of energy is stored in the cone and this causes mechanical instability in the film. As the LCE is heated further, the cone-shaped formation rapidly reverses, and the material rises up into the air. The study authors noted, “Concentric packing of the orientation in each of the LCE programs transforms a directional shape into a cone. However, variation in the response to the LCE and the mechanical properties of the materials have been shown to introduce temporal instability that would lead to a freestanding Appears as a snap-through in the film.
The researchers claim they can change the configuration of their jumpy material such that it jumps when it cools rather than when it heats up. Also, they can easily control the direction in which material jumps by changing the alignment of their feet. Shahsawan suggests that such LCEs could be used to make a variety of mobile soft robots and devices.
“The bounding jumping mechanism shown in this study provides a large amount of energy output density that can be scaled down to the load-bearing functionality of small-scale soft robots. Jumping can be used to propel small robots over uneven terrain,” he said. Locomotion can also be performed, either directly or as an auxiliary mechanism to other locomotion mechanisms such as walking, crawling, inching, etc.
LCEs were discovered some 42 years ago by a chemist named Heino Finkelmann, but this is probably the first time scientists have recognized their extraordinary jumping skills. The resulting locust-like material could provide a powerful means of mobility for soft robotics.
Science Advances, 2023. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.ade1320 (About DOI)
Rupendra Brahmbhatt is a veteran journalist and filmmaker. He covers science and culture news, and for the past five years, he has been actively working with some of the most innovative news agencies, magazines and media brands operating in different parts of the world.
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