Scientists have trained a piece of plastic to move and stick to an object of a given color.
The study, published in the journal Matter, was inspired by Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov’s famous experiment, in which dogs were trained to anticipate food at the sound of a bell.
It’s the first time an inanimate object has been taught to move in this way without using computer programming, scientists in Finland said.
Professor Olli Ikkala, from Aalto University, said: “At first, the liquid crystal polymer did not react to light at all, but during the process, it learned to move and grab objects under the guidance of light.”
Professor Arri Priimägi, from Tampere University, added: “For material to learn, it must have a memory. When the material is heated, the dye originally spread on the surface of the liquid crystal polymer penetrates into the material, thus forming the memory.
“Different dyes react to different wavelengths of light, so the initially neutral stimulus (color of light) can be controlled by the dye applied onto it.”
It’s hoped the research will prove useful in the emerging field of soft robotics.
Ikkala said: “If you give a typical mechanical robot a strawberry it might crush it.”
“So, we need robots that can grasp things very softly. Traditional robots also often need a power cord or a large, heavy battery.”
“Soft robotics aims at lightweight, external control, for example by using light.”