Reprogrammable, magnetically controlled polymeric nanocomposite actuators†
Soft robots and devices with the advanced capability to perform adaptive motions similar to that of human beings often have stimuli-sensitive polymeric materials as the key actuating component. The external signals triggering the smart polymers’ actuations can be transmitted either via a direct physical connection between actuator and controlling unit (tethered) or remotely without a connecting wire. However, the vast majority of such polymeric actuator materials are limited to one specific type of motion as their geometrical information is chemically fixed. Here, we present magnetically driven nanocomposite actuators, which can be reversibly reprogrammed to different actuation geometries by a solely physical procedure. Our approach is based on nanocomposite materials comprising spatially segregated crystallizable actuation and geometry determining units. Upon exposure to a specific magnetic field strength the actuators’ geometric memory is erased by the melting of the geometry determining units allowing the implementation of a new actuator shape. The actuation performance of the nanocomposites can be tuned and the technical significance was demonstrated in a multi-cyclic experiment with several hundreds of repetitive free-standing shape shifts without losing performance.