Future with Motor-less Robots

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The new actuating material that can be powered by light may replace traditional bulky motors and pneumatic actuators 

In order to contribute to the development of micro and biomimetic robots, scientists from the University of Hong Kong have come up with a novel actuating material. The material can be powered by visible light, electricity and other stimuli.

Actuators to replace bulky motors

The artificial muscles and actuating materials that can reversibly change their volume under various stimuli to replace traditional bulky and heavy actuators including motors and pneumatic actuators are in research for a very long time.

Now engineers have created an actuating material-nickel hydroxide-oxyhydroxide, that can be triggered by visible light. The material actuation can be triggered instantaneously and exerts a force equivalent to 3000 times of its own weight. The material is low-cost as the major component is nickel. The fabrication only involves electrodeposition; hence, the process is simple.

Light-induced actuating material

Among various stimuli, the actuators that can be triggered by light are desirable as they allow wireless operation of robots. The problem with existing light-induced actuators is that their material production and cost are high, which hinder their development in actual applications such as artificial muscles for robotics and human assist device, and minimally invasive surgical and diagnostic tools.

According to scientists, this nickel hydroxide-oxyhydroxide actuating material is the world’s first material system that can be actuated directly by visible light and electricity without any additional fabrication procedures. This has opened up a new research field on light-induced actuating behaviour for this material type (hydroxide-oxyhydroxides).

In addition to its visible light actuation properties, this novel material system can also be actuated by electricity. Hence, it can be integrated into the present well-developed robotics technology.

Apart from this, the material also responds to heat and humidity changes so that they might potentially be applied in autonomous machines that harness the tiny energy change in the environment.