Research ArticleACTUATORS

Micrometer-sized electrically programmable shape-memory actuators for low-power microrobotics

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Science Robotics  17 Mar 2021:
Vol. 6, Issue 52, eabe6663
DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.abe6663

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Abstract

Shape-memory actuators allow machines ranging from robots to medical implants to hold their form without continuous power, a feature especially advantageous for situations where these devices are untethered and power is limited. Although previous work has demonstrated shape-memory actuators using polymers, alloys, and ceramics, the need for micrometer-scale electro–shape-memory actuators remains largely unmet, especially ones that can be driven by standard electronics (~1 volt). Here, we report on a new class of fast, high-curvature, low-voltage, reconfigurable, micrometer-scale shape-memory actuators. They function by the electrochemical oxidation/reduction of a platinum surface, creating a strain in the oxidized layer that causes bending. They bend to the smallest radius of curvature of any electrically controlled microactuator (~500 nanometers), are fast (<100-millisecond operation), and operate inside the electrochemical window of water, avoiding bubble generation associated with oxygen evolution. We demonstrate that these shape-memory actuators can be used to create basic electrically reconfigurable microscale robot elements including actuating surfaces, origami-based three-dimensional shapes, morphing metamaterials, and mechanical memory elements. Our shape-memory actuators have the potential to enable the realization of adaptive microscale structures, bio-implantable devices, and microscopic robots.

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