Sustainable soft electronic and robotic systems
We are increasingly supported by and depend on a wide range of electronic and robotic appliances, with an ever more intimate integration of the digital and biological spheres. These advances however often negatively impact our ecosystem, with growing demands on energy, contributions to greenhouse gas emissions and environmental pollution. Mitigating these adverse effects is amongst the grand challenges of our society and at the forefront of materials research. The currently emerging forms of soft, biologically inspired electronics and robotics have the unique potential of becoming not only like their natural antitypes in performance and capabilities, but also in terms of their ecological footprint.
This talk introduces materials and methods or soft systems that facilitate a broad range of applications, from transient wearable electronics to metabolizable soft robots. These biogel-based embodiments are highly stretchable, are able to heal and are resistant to dehydration. Our forms of soft electronics and robots are designed for prolonged operation in ambient conditions without fatigue, but fully degrade after use through biological triggers. Electronic skins provide sensory feedback such as pressure, strain, temperature and humidity sensing. Recent advances in 3D printing of biodegradable hydrogels enables omnidirectional soft robots with multifaceted sensing abilities. Pushing the boundaries further, design concepts for fast actuation in soft robotics systems, from exploiting mechanical instabilities to leveraging magnetic interactions on the millimeter to centimeter scale are introduced. Applications range from safe machine-assisted working environments to using soft materials in environmentally friendly cooling systems that exploit the giant elastocaloric crystallization effect.
Kaltenbrunner is a full professor at the Johannes Kepler University, heading the Soft Matter Physics Department and the LIT Soft Materials Lab. He received his master’s and PhD degrees in physics from the Johannes Kepler University in 2008 and 2012, respectively. He then joined the Someya-Sekitani Lab for Organic Electronics at The University of Tokyo as postdoctoral researcher prior to his present position. Kaltenbrunner’s research interests include soft electronics and machines, biodegradable soft materials, photovoltaics, lightning and thin film transistors, soft transducers and robotics, flexible and stretchable electronics, and electronic skin.