Electrically-Controlled, Tubular Actuators for Less Bulky Soft Robots

A problem with many soft actuators is that they come with bulky setups, because their movements are controlled by pumping either air or fluids through chambers inside. UC-San Diego  engineers say they have developed a way to build soft robots that are portable, compact, and multifunctional. This advance was made possible by creating soft, tubular actuators whose movements are electrically controlled, which makes them easy to integrate with electronic components. The actuators are made from liquid crystal elastomers and heating wires. As a proof of concept, engineers used the new actuators to build a soft, battery-powered robot that can walk untethered on flat surfaces. They also built a soft gripper that can grasp and pick up small objects.