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article imageFlexible robots get new metal material for extra movement

By Tim Sandle     Jan 1, 2020 in Technology
Robotics engineers have developed a material which is lighter than paper and also very flexible. The materials also has excellent electrical conductivity, heat generation, and it is capable of wireless communications.
The new material has been developed, by researchers based at the National University of Singapore, with robots in mind, in order to improve the performance and sensing ability of mechanoids.
The types of robots considered for the material are soft-robots termed 'Origami robots'. Origami robots are autonomous machines, where the machine’s morphology and function are formed by folding. The robotic bodies are created from many dynamic folds which act together to actuate the machine, enabling rapid movements.
Most soft robots have been made out of paper or rubber. While this creates a level of flexibility it does not make the robots very robust. For this reason, the researchers worked on coming up with a lightweight type of metal which could serve as the body of the robot.
This was achieved by bringing together platinum and ash (burnt paper). This has created a material which maintains foldability and lightweight features together with suitable strength. This process is called a graphene oxide-enabled templating synthesis, with the generate material being analogous to the ‘wonder material’ graphene.
To create the material, cellulose paper is soaked by a graphene oxide solution. The paper is then placed into a solution composed of platinum ions. Following this, the material is burned in argon at 800°C and then at 500°C in air.
This process produces a thin layer of metal, just 90 micrometres formed of close to 70 percent platinum and about 30 percent amorphous carbon. This material is flexible and conductive.
Another advantage is with the metal being very energy efficient, using 30 percent less power compared with currently used soft robotics technologies. The material is also fire-resistant and it can operate under very cold conditions due to its ability to initiate geothermal heating.
The research article has been published in the journal Science Robotics. The research paper is titled “Multifunctional metallic backbones for origami robotics with strain sensing and wireless communication capabilities.”
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