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Published August 21, 2019 | Supplemental Material
Journal Article Open

Untethered soft robotic matter with passive control of shape morphing and propulsion


There is growing interest in creating untethered soft robotic matter that can repeatedly shape-morph and self-propel in response to external stimuli. Toward this goal, we printed soft robotic matter composed of liquid crystal elastomer (LCE) bilayers with orthogonal director alignment and different nematic-to-isotropic transition temperatures (T_(NI)) to form active hinges that interconnect polymeric tiles. When heated above their respective actuation temperatures, the printed LCE hinges exhibit a large, reversible bending response. Their actuation response is programmed by varying their chemistry and printed architecture. Through an integrated design and additive manufacturing approach, we created passively controlled, untethered soft robotic matter that adopts task-specific configurations on demand, including a self-twisting origami polyhedron that exhibits three stable configurations and a "rollbot" that assembles into a pentagonal prism and self-rolls in programmed responses to thermal stimuli.

Additional Information

© 2019 The Authors, some rights reserved; exclusive licensee American Association for the Advancement of Science. No claim to original U.S. Government Works. This is an article distributed under the terms of the Science Journals Default License. Received April 15, 2019. Accepted July 30, 2019. We thank Y. Liu for experimental assistance and S. Uzel, W. Boley, K. Korner, P. Celli, S. Injeti, and H. Zhou for useful discussions. We thank L. K. Sanders for technical assistance with imaging and videography. Funding: The work was supported by the Army Research Office (ARO) Grant W911NF-17-1-0147 (to C.D. and C.M.), the Harvard MRSEC (NSF DMR-1420570 to J.A.L. and A.K.), and the ARO MURI Grant W911NF-17-1-0351 (to J.A.L. and E.C.D.). We also acknowledge support from the NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship to C.M. and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to A.K. This work made use of the Shared Experimental Facilities supported in part by the Harvard MRSEC Program under award number DMR-1420570. Author contributions: A.K., C.M., C.D., and J.A.L. conceived the concept and designed the experiments. A.K., C.M., E.C.D., and J.M.M. performed experiments. A.K., C.M., E.C.D., and R.D.W. analyzed data. A.K., E.C.D., J.M.M., and R.D.W. developed the printing system and testing environments. A.K., C.M., E.C.D., C.D., and J.A.L. wrote the paper. Competing interests: J.A.L. has cofounded a start-up company, Voxel8, which focuses on multimaterial 3D printing. Data and materials availability: All data needed to evaluate the conclusions in this paper are available in the paper or the Supplementary Materials.

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August 19, 2023
October 18, 2023