Shape-Programmable Soft Actuators

The objective of this project is to design and develop soft actuators with programmable motion output.
Description of the Project: 

Soft actuator materials are being actively pursued owing to their importance in soft robotics, artificial muscles, biomimetic devices, and beyond. Electrically-, chemically-, and light-activated actuators are mostly explored soft actuators. Recently, significant efforts have been made to reduce the driving voltage and temperature of thermoresponsive actuators, develop chemical actuators that can function in air, and enhance the energy efficiency of light-responsive actuators.  Although some performance improvements have been reported for such actuators, there are still several challenges that need to be further improved. For example, very low output power generation of soft actuators is an obstacle to their practical use. Large deformation and various shape outputs are other important challenges in the soft actuator design. To date, shape-changing capability of many actuators is only limited to simple and monotonous contraction-expansion or bending-strengthening motions. Thus, the development of soft actuators capable of programmable shape-changing still remains a grand challenge.

This project aims to design and fabricate soft actuators with programmable site-specific actuation. The PhD candidate(s) will initially develop a computational tool to study the programmability and actuation state of soft actuators, considering bioinspired structures and anisotropic mechanical designs. The PhD candidate(s) will then prototype the optimized design using stimuli-responsive materials and 3D printing. The project will further focus on the potential applications of the fabricated programmable actuators in soft artificial muscles and medical devices.

Project number: 
First Supervisor: 
Heriot-Watt University
First supervisor university: 
Heriot-Watt University
Desirable skills and knowledge: 
Knowledge of mechanics of materials. Experience in materials characterization, mechanical tests, 3D printing, materials moulding/demoulding process. Familiar with FEM software packages.

- High-Performance Multiresponsive Paper Actuators, ACS Nano, 2016, 10, 10202-10210

- Soft actuators for small‐scale robotics, Advanced Materials, 2017, 29, 1603483.