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Temperature responsive polymer composite materials for robots

2023-12-21 10:55

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign have collaborated with the University of Houston to develop a new type of 3D printed polymer composite material. This material exhibits different performance at different temperatures, providing potential progress for autonomous robots to interact with the environment. This study, led by Shelly Zhang, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Weichen Li, a graduate student, utilized computer algorithms, two different polymers, and additive manufacturing technologies.


The research team used computer modeling to create a dual polymer composite material with different reactions at different temperatures. This composite material exhibits a soft rubber like state at low temperatures, while at higher temperatures it exhibits a hard plastic like state. This study, published in the journal Scientific Progress, demonstrates that the material can autonomously perceive temperature changes and perform specific tasks, such as activating LED lights without human intervention. For example, this material can autonomously adjust its physical properties based on temperature changes, allowing robots to change their functionality, such as changing their carrying capacity.


"It is very challenging to conceive a material or device that responds specifically to the environment based solely on human intuition - there are too many design possibilities," Professor Zhang said. "Therefore, we have decided to collaborate with computer algorithms to help us determine the optimal combination of materials and shapes."


The support of the National Science Foundation for this research highlights its potential impact on the fields of materials science and robotics. The development of temperature responsive composite materials has opened up new avenues for creating more dynamic and autonomous materials in various industries. The future research goal is to increase the complexity of material behavior, such as sensing impact velocity, which is crucial for robot materials to effectively respond to environmental hazards. The ability to program complex autonomous behaviors of materials will enhance the functionality and adaptability of robot systems, potentially leading to more efficient and responsive machines in various industrial and environmental applications.