A researcher at Westlake University in China has invented a tubular light-controlled soft robot that can pump liquids, unscrew bolts and move through pipes. The robot can also be made to bend towards a light source, like a plant leaning towards the sun.

In some materials, molecules can gain energy from light, which causes the material to expand or contract. A Westlake University researcher used this effect to create a prototype soft robot consisting of a 15 to 40 millimeter tube.

The researchers wound filaments of light-sensitive, elastic material into a tube inspired by an elephant’s trunk, with the fibers assembled in layers so that they can assume many different shapes, depending on which parts are stressed.

If the fibers of the elephant’s trunk respond to electrical signals from the brain, the fibers of the created robot respond to light. When illuminated with light of different frequency and intensity, the robot took on a different shape.

In one experiment, the researchers filled the robot with liquid and connected it to a tube that led to an elevated container. Using the light, the robot pumped the liquid up and into the container. In another, they slid the robot through a curved tube with a bolt at the bottom. The robot was able to unscrew this bolt.

Source: The New Scientist