Nature communications

Hydraulic hydrogel actuators and robots optically and sonically camouflaged in water.

PMID 28145412


Sea animals such as leptocephali develop tissues and organs composed of active transparent hydrogels to achieve agile motions and natural camouflage in water. Hydrogel-based actuators that can imitate the capabilities of leptocephali will enable new applications in diverse fields. However, existing hydrogel actuators, mostly osmotic-driven, are intrinsically low-speed and/or low-force; and their camouflage capabilities have not been explored. Here we show that hydraulic actuations of hydrogels with designed structures and properties can give soft actuators and robots that are high-speed, high-force, and optically and sonically camouflaged in water. The hydrogel actuators and robots can maintain their robustness and functionality over multiple cycles of actuations, owing to the anti-fatigue property of the hydrogel under moderate stresses. We further demonstrate that the agile and transparent hydrogel actuators and robots perform extraordinary functions including swimming, kicking rubber-balls and even catching a live fish in water.