Variable stiffness material based on rigid low-melting-point-alloy microstructures embedded in soft poly(dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS)†
Materials with controllable stiffness are of great interest to many fields, including medicine and robotics. In this paper we develop a new type of variable stiffness material based on the combination of a rigid low-melting-point-alloy (LMPA) microstructure embedded in soft poly(dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS). This material can transition between rigid and soft states by controlling the phase of the LMPA through efficient, direct Joule-heating of the LMPA microstructure. The devices tested demonstrate a relative stiffness change of >25× (elastic modulus is 40 MPa when LMPA is solid and 1.5 MPa when LMPA is liquid) and a fast transition from rigid to soft states (<1 s) at low power (<500 mW). Additionally, the material possesses inherent state (soft and rigid) and strain sensing (GF = 0.8) based on resistance changes.