‘Swarmalator’ Materials Pave Way for Self-Regulating Robots

Chemical engineers at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering  have developed self-oscillating, flexible materials. The component materials mutually adapt their overall shapes as they interact in a fluid-filled chamber.

The new systems support new kinds of collaborative, self-regulating soft robotic systems.

The 2D sheets self-morph into 3D objects. The sheet receives a non-oscillating signal, which provides a kind of set of instructions for forming larger aggregate.

The self-oscillations of the flexible sheets are powered by catalytic reactions in a fluidic chamber. The sheet reactions and chamber reactions initiate a complex feedback loop: chemical energy from the reaction is converted into fluid flow, which transports and deforms the flexible sheets. The structurally evolving sheets, in turn, affect the motion of the fluid, which continues to deform the sheets.

Such highly self-organizing materials are important for creating self-propelled soft robots that come together and cooperatively alter their form to accomplish a regular, repeated function.