Rollbot – The Heat Sensitive Shape Changer

Technology advancement especially in the robotic field has been developing at a tremendous rate these days. The latest addition to the fascinating robotics list is the Rollbot.

This particular soft robot changes its shape when prone to a certain response to heat. Specifically, it would be termed as a Self-Folding Robot.

What is Rollbot? What Does it do?

In a new paper in Science Robotics, a team from Caltech describe using sets of folds like origami to create a flexible soft robot. They created two different type of hinges which fold at different temperatures; so when the robot’s heated it folds in a specific order.

The advantage of the hinges –
they allow the robot configuration into different shapes; but within set parameters. Other soft robots have blobby bodies which are difficult to predict and control; but the hinging robots only need to be deformed in the small area of the hinge.

One robot they made using this technique is the Rollbot; which begins as a flat sheet 8 centimeters by 4 centimeters in size. When the Rollbot’s  placed onto a hot surface, its hinges fold and it becomes a pentagonal wheel.

When the Rollbot has achieved its wheel shape, its sides come into contact with the hot surface and hinge out another set of panels; which push the robot forward. The robot can roll essentially autonomously.

These untethered structures can be passively controlled,” Arda Kotikian; a graduate student at Caltech’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, explained. “In other words, all we need to do is expose the structures to specific temperature environments, and they will respond according to how we programmed the hinges.”

While these robots controlled with temperature; future versions controlled by other factors like light, pH as well as humidity. Being able to manipulate active materials in this way “enables the design and fabrication of entirely new classes of soft robotic matter“; according to Jennifer A. Lewis, Professor of Biologically Inspired Engineering at Caltech.


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The Abstract of The Rollbot –

“There is growing interest in creating untethered soft robotic matter that can repeatedly shape-morph and self-propel in response to external stimuli. Toward this goal, we printed soft robotic matter composed of liquid crystal elastomer (LCE) bilayers with orthogonal director alignment and different nematic-to-isotropic transition temperatures (TNI) to form active hinges that interconnect polymeric tiles.
When heated above their respective actuation temperatures, the printed LCE hinges exhibit a large, reversible bending response. Their actuation response is programmed by varying their chemistry and printed architecture. Through an integrated design and additive manufacturing approach, we created passively controlled, untethered soft robotic matter that adopts task-specific configurations on demand, including a self-twisting origami polyhedron that exhibits three stable configurations and a “rollbot” that assembles into a pentagonal prism and self-rolls in programmed responses to thermal stimuli.”

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Navaneetha Suresh

Navaneetha Suresh

Navaneetha, commonly known as "nav", loves to read, play badminton, play the keyboard and sing but when she's not doing any of those, she loves to write. What started as a high school hobby to write is now her ongoing passion.

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