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Markus Lahikainen: Future soft robots will be fueled with light

Tampere University
LocationKorkeakoulunkatu 8, Tampere
Hervanta campus, Festia building lecture hall FA032 and remote connection
1.10.2021 9.00–13.00
Entrance feeFree of charge
Markus Lahikainen.
Soft robotics is a rapidly developing research field that aims at providing new solution to the challenges encountered by conventional hard-bodied robotic systems constructed using rigid joints and links, such as compliance and difficulty to scale down the size. Among the most promising materials for small-scale soft robotics are light-responsive polymers, which provide a route to harness light energy to remotely fuel the robotic motions.

Today’s robots are often associated with hard-bodied machines containing rigid joints and links. Over the past 15 years, researchers have come up with the idea of using soft materials in robotics. The discipline of soft robotics aims at replacing, e.g., heavy, and hard metal shells with materials such as polymers or elastomers

“Polymers are a highly attractive class of materials. Using only a few polymerization techniques, materials with very different properties can be produced. Polymers can be elastic or rigid, soft or hard, colored or transparent. For these reasons, polymers are good materials for making soft robots,” Markus Lahikainen says.

In his dissertation, Lahikainen used light to control polymer-based soft robots.

“Light is an excellent energy source because it is everywhere. In addition, the properties of light, such as intensity, color, and polarization can be easily changed,” Lahikainen says.

The light-based control strategy brings also other benefits to soft robotics. It provides a wireless powering approach with no physical contact between the energy source and the material, eliminating the need for electronic components such as batteries or wires.

“The means for light control can be introduced into the material at the molecular level already at the polymerization stage. Therefore, there is no need to use any electrical components and the robots can be made small, down to a millimeter in size,” Lahikainen continues.

Markus Lahikainen used three advanced light control strategies to power soft robots: i) self-sustained motions based on photomechanical oscillation, ii) the use of different colors of light for distinct control over the robotic movements and iii) reconfigurability, where the robot can be programmed to operate differently in identical illumination conditions.

“The field of light-fueled robotics is growing rapidly, but there is still a long way to go before these materials make their way to real-world applications. However, I believe that the results presented in my Thesis offer new routes towards soft micro-robots that can be deemed adaptive or even intelligent,” Lahikainen says.

The doctoral dissertation of M.Sc (Tech.) Markus Lahikainen entitled “Advanced Light Control Strategies of Polymer Networks for Soft Robotics” will be publicly examined at the Faculty of Engineering and Natural Sciences at 12 o’clock on Friday 1 October, 2021. The venue is Hervanta campus, Festia building lecture hall FA032 (Korkeakoulunkatu 8, Tampere). Professor Jan Lagerwall from University of Luxembourg will be the opponent while Professor Arri Priimägi will act as the custos.

The event can also be followed via remote connection.

The dissertation is available online at: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-03-2099-7

Photo: Jukka Lehto