3D printed reversible shape changing soft actuators assisted by liquid crystal elastomers†
In this work, we advance printed active composites by combining 3D printing, printed electronics, and liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs) to achieve soft actuators with free-standing two-way shape changing behaviors. Incorporated LCE strips are activated by Joule heating produced by printed conductive wires, while uniaxial deformation of the LCE strip is utilized as a driving force to achieve bending in the printed composite. The bending behavior of laminated hinges is first characterized in order to obtain a precise control of actuation, which is then exploited to actuate four demonstrative designs: a morphing airplane, a miura-ori structure, a cubic box, and a soft crawler. The soft morphing airplane and miura-ori structure are designed and fabricated with multiple laminated hinges to demonstrate the synergistic actions during actuation. The cubic box is constructed to show the capability of sequential folding by implementing multiple groups of conductive wires to achieve accurately addressable heating with temporal control. Finally, the two-way transformation is utilized as a driving force for the locomotion of a soft crawler stimulated by a periodic rectangular wave current. These examples show the great potential of using the hybrid 3D printing and pick-and-place method and using LCEs to achieve controllable shape change structures for a variety of potential practical applications.