Programming a crystalline shape memory polymer network with thermo- and photo-reversible bonds toward a single-component soft robot

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Science Advances  26 Jan 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 1, eaao3865
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aao3865

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The need to support the two most basic functions [three-dimensional (3D)–shaped support and actuation] independently for a typical robot demands that at least two components should be used in its construction. Therefore, component assembly is unavoidable despite the ultimate dream of creating assembly-free robots. We devise a strategy that uses a programmable crystalline shape memory polymer with thermo- and photo-reversible bonds to create a single-component robot. The global 3D-shaped structural support is fabricated via a plasticity-based origami technique enabled by the thermo-reversible bonds. More critically, precisely controlled localized actuation can be programmed into the 3D origami via spatially defined reversible shape memory using the photo-reversible bonds. The overall result is that a polymer thin film can be programmed into various soft robots including a 3D crane and an elephant. Besides reversible shape memory, other types of actuation mechanisms can be potentially introduced via a similar principle. Thus, our strategy represents a general method to create single-component soft robots.

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