They have created an Arduino powered soft robotics system that makes use of good old electricity to control flexible actuators, not unlike how our brains move our muscles. Up until now, builders have used either an air compressor or a hydraulic system to accomplish this.
But both solutions take up precious space.
Space that is at a premium.
You can watch it in action in the video below:
What basically happens is that sheets of heat-sensitive liquid crystal elastomer are sandwiched between two layers of standard elastomer. Rolled into cylinders, these layers have the ability to twist and bend in different directions.
Lighting up all six makes the tube contract, which has all the makings of good gripper.
As you can imagine, the project is still in its infancy.
Not only are the actuators slow to bend, they are even slower to return to their original shape. But as far as starts go, this is great. And it could lead to newer soft robotic projects that can now get off the ground, those that were stuck due to the bulk and weight of the previously used system.