Morphing metal could shape the future of soft robotics

A team of engineers from Cornell University, led by Professor Rob Shepherd, have created a hybrid material that they say could enable robots or vehicles to change shape to carry out specific tasks.

"Sometimes you want a robot, or machine, to be stiff," said Prof Shepherd. "But when you make them stiff, they can't morph their shape very well. And to give a soft robot both capabilities, to be able to morph their structure but also to be stiff and bear load, that's what this material does."

The material is said to combine a soft alloy called Field's metal with a porous silicone foam. In addition to its low melting point of 62°C, Field's metal was chosen because, unlike similar alloys, it contains no lead. The combination of stiff metal and soft foam means it can be stiff when called for, and elastic when a change of shape is required. The material is also claimed to be able to self-heal following damage.

To make the material the elastomer foam is dipped into the molten metal, then placed in a vacuum so that the air in the foam's pores is removed and replaced by the alloy. The foam had pore sizes of about 2mm; that can be tuned to create a stiffer or a more flexible material.

In testing of its strength and elasticity, the material is said to have shown an ability to deform when heated above 62°C, regain rigidity when cooled, then return to its original shape and strength when reheated.

Author
Tom Austin-Morgan

This material is protected by MA Business copyright
See Terms and Conditions.
One-off usage is permitted but bulk copying is not.
For multiple copies contact the sales team.

 

Supporting Information
Do you have any comments about this article?
Name
 
Email
 
Comments
 

Your comments/feedback may be edited prior to publishing. Not all entries will be published.
Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

© MA Business Ltd (a Mark Allen Group Company) 2017