Johannes Kepler University Linz scientists have used 3D printing to create soft robotics with integrated sensor networks able to expand six times their original length.
The study’s main focus was to address many of the sustainability concerns
raised by the development of soft robotics applications, such as the usage of non-biodegradable materials in the industry and the resulting increased environmental effects.
To mitigate this, the scientists’ soft robots are made entirely of biodegradable materials and may be upcycled numerous times or disposed of safely at the end of their useful lives.
Eco-friendly soft robots
While soft robotics is often inspired by nature in terms of how it works, the materials used to create these applications are typically non-biodegradable or come from non-renewable sources.
Due to the existing limited lifetime of soft materials, or for situations where deployed robots cannot be retrieved, the team determined that the field has to improve its sustainability credentials.
Furthermore, traditional manufacturing processes like mold casting are more often than not unable to duplicate the intricacies of nature’s creations.
Traditional techniques have been used in the past to create biodegradable soft robots. However, the robots generated are limited in terms of geometry and feature size.
To address both issues, the researchers created a customized FDM-based additive manufacturing process to print a fully biodegradable gelatin-based ink onto robust,
complex soft robots with built-in sensor networks.
3DP flexibility and Soft robotics
Due to the creative freedom provided by the 3DP,
3D printing is gaining traction for novel applications such as soft robotics,
and there have been numerous notable research advancements in this sector recently.
Scientists at UC San Diego have developed a revolutionary method of 3D printing liquid crystal elastomers (LCE) with potential uses as an actuating material for soft robotics,
while Tianjin University researchers have 4D printed a self-propelling soft robot capable of rolling and climbing on its own.
For example, Linköping University researchers built a set of 4D microactuators for soft micro-robotics, and
Harvard University researchers utilized 3D printing to create a school of soft robotic fish capable of swimming in complicated patterns thanks to a system of LEDs and cameras.
More information on the study can be found at Science Robotics