Variable stiffness wires based on magnetorheological liquid metals
International Journal of Smart and Nano Materials
Magnetorheological fluid (MRF) has shown its great potential in the development of large mechanical devices, such as dampers, shock absorbers, rotary brakes, clutches, and prosthetic joints. Recently, more research focus has been invested on using MRF to develop soft, stretchable, and miniaturized devices with variable stiffness for realizing functionalities that cannot be achieved using solid smart materials. Here, based on liquid metal magnetoactive slurries (LMMS), a variable stiffness wire with excellent electrical conductivity is demonstrated. Without exposure to a magnetic field, the LMMS wire has an extremely low stiffness, and can be easily stretched while maintaining an excellent electrical conductivity. When applying a magnetic field, the wire becomes much stiffer and can retain its shape even under a load. The combination of properties of flexibility, high electrical conductivity, and variable stiffness of the wire is harnessed to make a flexible gripper that can grasp objects of various shapes. Moreover, by using gallium instead of its liquid metal alloys, the tunable stiffness range of the LMMS wire is significantly enhanced and can be controlled using both external magnetic fields and temperature-induced phase change. The presented LMMS wire has the potential to be applied in flexible electronics, soft robotics and so on.