Plastic is learning to walk

- Dec 06, 2019-

Finnish researchers are "training" plastic to walk under light control.

The method, published in matter on December 4th, is the first time a synthetic actuator has "learned" new "tricks" from past experience without computer programming.


Made from a network of thermosensitive liquid crystal polymers and a layer of dye, these plastics are soft actuators that convert energy into mechanical motion.

Initially, it only responded to heat, but by associating light with heat, it learned to react to light.

In response, the actuator bends itself like a human index finger.

By periodically irradiating the actuator, it can "walk" like an inchworm at a speed of 1 mm/s, about the same as a snail.


"Our research is essentially asking the question of whether inanimate matter can learn in some very simple way."

Arri Priim?

Gi says, can the material be learned?

If the material can be learned, what does that mean?


The researchers linked light to heat, allowing the dye on the surface to spread throughout the drive, turning it blue.

This phenomenon increases the overall absorption of light, thereby increasing the photothermal effect, which then "learns" to bend under radiation.


"This study was inspired by Pavlov's dog experiments."

Priim?

Gi said.

In experiments, dogs drool when they see food.

Then Pavlov rang the doorbell before feeding the dog.

After a few repetitions, the dog associates the food with the bell and begins to drool at the sound.

"In our system, heat corresponds to food, and light corresponds to the clock in Pavlov's experiment."


In addition to walking, the system can "recognize" and respond to different wavelengths of light.

This property makes the material an adjustable, remote-controlled soft micro-robot, ideal for biomedical applications.