Phase-Changing Robots

Tune-able stiffness material could allow low-cost robots to switch between rigid and soft states.

0 July 16, 2014
by Design Engineering Staff

These 3D-printed soft, flexible scaffolds shows the material in its wax-coated rigid state (left) and uncoated, compliant state (right). (Photo courtesy of  Hosoi/MIT)

These 3D-printed soft, flexible scaffolds shows the material in its wax-coated rigid state (left) and uncoated, compliant state (right). (Photo courtesy of Hosoi/MIT)

Researchers at MIT have unveiled a phase-changing material, built from wax and foam, that’s capable of switching between hard and soft states. Developed by Anette Hosoi, a professor of mechanical engineering and applied mathematics at MIT, former graduate student Nadia Cheng, and researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization and Stony Brook University — the material could be used to build deformable surgical robots or search-and-rescue robots able to wriggle through rubble.

To create the variably rigid material, the researchers coated a foam lattice in wax, which transforms from hard outer shell to a pliable surface with moderate heating via a wire along each coated foam strut. Turning off the current allows the wax to cool and return to a rigid state. In addition, heating the wax also the material to repair itself.

To study the material, the researchers 3D printed a foam lattice structure, to allow them to carefully control the position of each of the struts and pores.

Hosoi is now investigating the use of other unconventional materials for robotics, such as magnetorheological and electrorheological fluids. These materials consist of a liquid with particles suspended inside, and can be made to switch from a soft to a rigid state with the application of a magnetic or electric field.
http://web.mit.edu


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