Researchers at Donghua University in China have created a type of graphene paper that can fold itself into a variety of shapes, including a miniature walking robot.
The technology relies on treating sections of graphene paper so they absorb water vapor from the atmosphere. When heated, these sections will release their water, causing them to shrink and bend. By varying the width and length of these specially treated sections, researchers can cause the graphene paper to fold into various configurations and even move around.
Their research included creating a self-assembling box, an artificial hand that could grasp and hold objects heavier than itself, and a caterpillar-like walking device. The research could lead to the development of self-folding structures and devices for applications such as micro-robots, artificial muscles, and tissue-engineering devices.
Donghua Ph.D. candidate Jiuke Mu says the material also could be used to make smart clothing that "could change its shape and style in response to body temperature, environmental changes, or other gentle stimulations."
The researchers note their graphene paper is inexpensive and durable. It uses graphene oxide, which costs as little as 16 cents per gram, and is able to remain 90-percent effective after being folded 500 times.
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