New “Active Matter” Technology Enables Shape-Shifting Robots

New “Active Matter” Technology Enables Shape-Shifting Robots 

This article explains how New “Active Matter” Technology Enables Shape-Shifting Robots.

Physicists have developed a new approach to coat soft robots with materials that improve their movement and function. 

Physicists have developed a new approach to coat soft robots with materials that improve their movement and function. The study, led by Bath University, was published in Science Advances on March 11, 2022. 

The study’s authors believe their breakthrough modeling on “active matter” could revolutionize robot design. By controlling the surface activity of a soft solid, researchers may be able to govern its shape, movement, and behavior. 

A soft material’s surface always shrinks into a sphere. Consider how water beads into droplets: the surface of liquids and other soft materials spontaneously compresses into the lowest possible surface area – a spherical. But active matter can be engineered to counteract this. A rubber ball coated in a layer of nano-robots, programmed to work together to twist the ball into a new, pre-determined shape (say, a star). 

Active matter may lead to a new generation of machines that function from the ground up. Instead of a central controller, these new machines would be made up of many discrete active components that work together to determine the machine’s movement and function. This is similar to how biological tissues work, like heart muscle fibers. 

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Using this concept, scientists may create soft machines with flexible arms powered by embedded robots. They could potentially shape medicine delivery capsules by covering nanoparticles with a responsive, active substance. This could impact how a medicine interacts with cells in the body. 

Work on active matter challenges the idea that the energetic cost of a liquid or soft solid surface must always be positive since a surface requires energy to develop. 

“Active matter makes us look at the familiar rules of nature in a fresh light,” stated research first author Dr. Jack Binysh. Breaking these norms and seeing what happens is an intriguing location to do research.” 

Author Dr. Anton Souslov noted, “This study is a proof of concept with various ramifications.” To pick up and manipulate fragile items, future technologies may build softer soft robots. 

The researchers created theories and simulations for a 3D soft solid with active surface stresses. They discovered that active strains stretch the material’s surface, creating a global shape change. The researchers discovered that by modifying the material’s elastic properties, the solid’s shape could be modified. 

The researchers will now apply this fundamental approach to specialized robots, such as soft arms or self-swimming materials. This includes collective behavior, such as what happens when numerous active solids are crowded together.

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