Fangjie Qi, Yanbin Li, Yaoye Hong, Yao Zhao, Haitao Qing, Jie Yin

Defected twisted ring topology for autonomous periodic flip–spin–orbit soft robot

  • Multidisciplinary

Periodic spin–orbit motion is ubiquitous in nature, observed from electrons orbiting nuclei to spinning planets orbiting the Sun. Achieving autonomous periodic orbiting motions, along circular and noncircular paths, in soft mobile robotics is crucial for adaptive and intelligent exploration of unknown environments—a grand challenge yet to be accomplished. Here, we report leveraging a closed-loop twisted ring topology with a defect for an autonomous soft robot capable of achieving periodic spin-orbiting motions with programmed circular and re-programmed irregular-shaped trajectories. Constructed by bonding a twisted liquid crystal elastomer ribbon into a closed-loop ring topology, the robot exhibits three coupled periodic self-motions in response to constant temperature or constant light sources: inside-out flipping, self-spinning around the ring center, and self-orbiting around a point outside the ring. The coupled spinning and orbiting motions share the same direction and period. The spinning or orbiting direction depends on the twisting chirality, while the orbital radius and period are determined by the twisted ring geometry and thermal actuation. The flip–spin and orbiting motions arise from the twisted ring topology and a bonding site defect that breaks the force symmetry, respectively. By utilizing the twisting-encoded autonomous flip–spin–orbit motions, we showcase the robot’s potential for intelligently mapping the geometric boundaries of unknown confined spaces, including convex shapes like circles, squares, triangles, and pentagons and concaves shapes with multi-robots, as well as health monitoring of unknown confined spaces with boundary damages.

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