Abstract: An untethered, entirely soft robot is designed to operate autonomously by combining microfluidic logic and hydrogen peroxide as an on-board fuel supply. Soft robotics have so far necessarily included some 'hard' or metallic elements, in particular in the form of batteries or wiring, to connect them to an external power source. Additionally, external wiring tethering them to a power source places limits on the autonomy of such robots. Now Jennifer Lewis and colleagues have combined a 3D-printed soft polymeric robot with microfluidic logic and hydrogen peroxide as an onboard fuel to produce an eight-armed robot — an 'octobot' — that actuates its arms, without the incorporation of any hard structures. The hydrogen peroxide decomposes in the presence of a platinum catalyst to produce oxygen and a volumetric expansion that fills bladders embedded within the arms of the octobot. The design of the fuel reservoirs, microfluidic channels and vents to release the gas means that two sets of arms actuate cyclically. Soft robots possess many attributes that are difficult, if not impossible, to achieve with conventional robots composed of rigid materials1,2. Yet, despite recent advances, soft robots must still be tethered to hard robotic control systems and power sources3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10. New strategies for creating completely soft robots, including soft analogues of these crucial components, are needed to realize their full potential. Here we report the untethered operation of a robot composed solely of soft materials. The robot is controlled with microfluidic logic11 that autonomously regulates fluid flow and, hence, catalytic decomposition of an on-board monopropellant fuel supply. Gas generated from the fuel decomposition inflates fluidic networks downstream of the reaction sites, resulting in actuation12. The body and microfluidic logic of the robot are fabricated using moulding and soft lithography, respectively, and the pneumatic actuator networks, on-board fuel reservoirs and catalytic reaction chambers needed for movement are patterned within the body via a multi-material, embedded 3D printing technique13,14. The fluidic and elastomeric architectures required for function span several orders of magnitude from the microscale to the macroscale. Our integrated design and rapid fabrication approach enables the programmable assembly of multiple materials within this architecture, laying the foundation for completely soft, autonomous robots.
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