Actuators That Mimic Ice Plants

The actuator developed by the Max Planck researchers consists of polymer cells made of non-swellable walls and a swellable interior. When the chambers absorb a liquid, the structure expands in one direction.

Engineers developing moveable robot components may soon take advantage of a trick that plants use. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam and Harvard University in Cambridge (USA) have now presented a polymer material with a cellular structure that could be used as an actuator – that is, an actively movable component. The cells are designed in such a way that, when they are swelled by a liquid or compressed air, the structure expands in only one direction. In this way, the researchers mimic the purely physical mechanism by which the coverings of ice plant seed capsules open and close. The researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces had clarified this movement mechanism in 2011. Movable components based on a similar design as the newly presented actuators could give robots particularly natural movement properties.

(Advanced Materials Interfaces, June 26, 2015)

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