A ring-shaped soft robot capable of crawling across surfaces upon exposure to infrared light or elevated temperatures has been developed by researchers from North Carolina State University.

So-called “Ringbots,” which are composed of liquid crystal elastomers in a looped ribbon shape, are capable of moving across surfaces, passing through narrow gaps and carrying small payloads, according to its developers.

Source: Colorado State UniversitySource: Colorado State University

To accomplish this, the researchers placed the Ringbot on a surface heated to at least 131° F — which is hotter than the ambient air. The section of the Ringbot’s ribbon in contact with the heated surface reportedly contracts while the segment of the Ringbot’s ribbon exposed to the air does not contract, thereby producing a rolling motion in the ribbon.

This effect is also achieved when the team of researchers exposed the ribbon-like structure to infrared light. The segment of the Ringbot’s ribbon exposed to infrared light contracted while the segment shielded from the infrared light did not contract. This also produced a rolling motion in the ribbon.

The researchers note that when the Ringbot was placed on the hot surface, it pulled itself forward, whereas when the Ringbot was exposed to infrared light, it pushed itself forward.

The article, Self‐sustained Snapping Drives Autonomous Dancing and Motion in Free‐standing Wavy Rings, appears in the journal Advanced Materials.

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