Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder, in the United States, have developed a new rubber-like material that can leap in the air like a grasshopper in the wild, without needing any stimulus or external human intervention.
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According to the scientists who participated in this discovery, the innovative material uses all the stored energy and transforms it into a type of elastic instability, allowing a jump up to 200 times greater than its own thickness, as if it were an insect jumping from branch to branch.
“In nature, many adaptations, such as a grasshopper’s leg, utilize stored energy as an elastic instability. We are trying to create synthetic materials that mimic these natural properties”, explains professor of chemical engineering Timothy White, co-author of the study.
The new material takes advantage of the unusual behavior of a class of compounds known as liquid crystal elastomers. These materials are modified versions of solid and liquid polymers commonly found in laptops and conventional TV screens.
During laboratory tests, the team placed small liquid crystal elastomers the size of a contact lens on a heated plate. As these films heated up, they began to deform, forming a cone until they bounced 200 times higher than their own thickness in just six milliseconds.
“This presents opportunities for using polymeric materials in new ways for applications like lightweight robotics, where we often need access to these high-speed, high-force actuation mechanisms,” adds Tayler Hebner, professor of chemical engineering, lead author of the research. .
According to the researchers, liquid crystal elastomers are extremely versatile and durable, and can be used several times without wearing out. Another advantage is that these films can be set to bounce when they get cold or hot, with “legs” able to bounce in any direction.
Furthermore, this new material manages to store an impressive amount of elastic energy and release it all at once. In the future, this technology could be applied, for example, in the development of soft jumping robots, which would not need an external energy source to move.
“It’s a powerful example of how the fundamental concepts we study can be turned into designs that work in complex and surprising ways. Soon, we will have robots without gears or other rigid components bouncing around like grasshoppers in a field”, concludes Hebner.
Source: University of Colorado