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Magnetic Printing of Liquid Metal for Perceptive Soft Actuators with Embodied Intelligence

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posted on 21.01.2021, 09:14 by Biao Ma, Chengtao Xu, Lishan Cui, Chao Zhao, Hong Liu
Soft actuators with perception capability are essential for robots to intelligently interact with humans and the environment. However, existing perceptive soft actuators require complex integration and coupling between the discrete functional units to achieve autonomy. Here, we report entirely soft actuators with embodied sensing, actuation, and control at the single-unit level. This is achieved by synergistically harnessing the mechanosensing and electrothermal properties of liquid metal (LM) to actuate the thermally responsive liquid crystal elastomer (LCE). We create multifunctional LM circuits on the LCE surface using a simple and facile methodology based on magnetic printing. The fluidic LM circuit can not only be utilized as a conformable resistive heater but also as a sensory skin to perceive its own deformation. Moreover, the rational design of the LM circuits makes it possible to achieve biomimetic autonomous actuation in response to mechanical stimuli such as pressure or strain. In addition, the intrinsic stretchability of LM allows us to create 3D spring-like actuators via a simple prestretch step, and complex helical motions can be obtained upon mechanical stimulation. This work provides a unique and simple design for autonomous soft robotics with embodied intelligence.