Body Temperature-Triggered Mechanical Instabilities for High-Speed Soft Robots
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Nature offers bionic inspirations for elegant applications of mechanical principles such as the concept of snap buckling, which occurs in several plants. Exploiting mechanical instabilities is the key to fast movement here. We use the snap-through and snap-back instability observed in natural rubber balloons to design an ultrafast purely mechanical elastomer actuator. Our design eliminates the need in potentially harmful stimulants, high voltages, and is safe in operation. We trigger the instability and thus the actuation by temperature changes, which bring about a liquid/gas phase transition in a suitable volatile fluid. This allows for large deformations up to 300% area expansion within response times of a few milliseconds. A few degree temperature change, readily provided by the warmth of a human hand, is sufficient to reliably trigger the actuation. Experiments are compared with the appropriate theory for a model actuator system; this provides design rules, sensitivity, and operational limitations, paving the way for applications ranging from object sorting to intimate human-machine interaction.