Photo-steered rapid and multimodal locomotion of 3D-printed tough hydrogel robots

Mater Horiz. 2024 May 7;11(9):2143-2152. doi: 10.1039/d3mh02247a.


Hydrogels are an ideal material to develop soft robots. However, it remains a grand challenge to develop miniaturized hydrogel robots with mechanical robustness, rapid actuation, and multi-gait motions. Reported here is a facile strategy to fabricate hydrogel-based soft robots by three-dimensional (3D) printing of responsive and nonresponsive tough gels for programmed morphing and locomotion upon stimulations. Highly viscoelastic poly(acrylic acid-co-acrylamide) and poly(acrylic acid-co-N-isopropyl acrylamide) aqueous solutions, as well as their mixtures, are printed with multiple nozzles into 3D constructs followed by incubation in a solution of zirconium ions to form robust carboxyl-Zr4+ coordination complexes, to produce tough metallo-supramolecular hydrogel fibers. Gold nanorods are incorporated into ink to afford printed gels with response to light. Owing to the mechanical excellence and small diameter of gel fibers, the printed hydrogel robots exhibit high robustness, fast response, and agile motions when remotely steered by dynamic light. The design of printed constructs and steering with spatiotemporal light allow for multimodal motions with programmable trajectories of the gel robots. The hydrogel robots can walk, turn, flip, and transport cargos upon light stimulations. Such printed hydrogels with good mechanical performances, fast response, and agile locomotion may open opportunities for soft robots in biomedical and engineering fields.