It just got a little easier to create soft robots that adapt to the world around them. Rice University researchers have developed a 3D printing technique (they call it “4D”) for material that automatically changes to an alternate shape when subjected to an electric current, changes in temperature or simple stress. The team produced a liquid crystal polymer ‘ink’ with two exclusive sets of molecular links — one with the originally printed shape, and another by manipulating the material. In this case, scientists just had to heat or cool the material to flip it between a flat surface and a bumpy one, among other changes.
The challenge was to craft a polymer mix that could be printed in a catalyst bath without losing its shape, Rice said.