Living 3D Displays Recreated

These voxels of a new 3D display are made of twisted spiral artificial muscles. (Source: C. Lamuta)

It is safe to say that 3D displays do not neces­sarily occur in nature – unless one considers the cephalopod, which includes the squid and octopus, as a living 3D display which can morph its structure and create complex shapes and textures for camou­flage purposes or drag control. Now, a research team from the Uni­versity of Iowa and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is developing a smart skin inspired by the cephalo­pod which can be used in 3D displays, as interfaces for the visually impaired, and to help reduce drag on marine vehicles.

The team, led by Caterina Lamuta, assistant professor of mechanical engi­neering at the University of Iowa, as well as Sameh Tawfick and Nancy Sottos, professors at the Uni­versity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, found that using twisted and coiled polymer fibers to create arti­ficial muscles could produce light­weight smart skins that are capable of fine motion and shape modu­lation. In cephalopods, voxels are controlled by the animal’s papillae muscles which allow their skin to take numerous forms, protrude outward, and take new shapes in fractions of seconds.

Caterina Lamuta working with smart elements of the new display type. (Source: U Iowa)

The team took inspiration from the cepha­lopods’ papillae to reproduce digital texture voxels (DTVs) from twisted spiral artificial muscles (TSAMs). With an input voltage of only 0.2 V/cm, TSAMs provide a stroke of 2000% and a roughness profile ranging from a few microns to one centimeter. “These lightweight twisted spiral arti­ficial muscles hold the potential to replace heavy and bulky devices based on conven­tional electric and pneumatic actuators,” said Lamuta. “We actuate this skin using small electrical impulses instead of heavy power sources and noisy air compressors, which allows for more precise movement and general ease of use.”

An array of indivi­dually controlled TSAMs is embedded into a soft material to reproduce a soft, stretchable, and smart skin, able to perform a poten­tially unlimited number of output textures and shapes. “The DTVs provide what we call on-demand textures and patterns,” said Lamuta. “Because our DTVs are so light­weight and flexible, we believe that their use can pave the way for several appli­cations, ranging from the hydro­dynamic drag control of underwater vehicles and robots, to the develop­ment of 3D displays and haptic feedback devices for virtual reality and robotic surgery”. (Source: U. Iowa)

Reference: C. Lamuta et al.: Digital Texture Voxels for Stretchable Morphing Skin Applications, Adv. Mat. Tech. 4, 1900260 (2019); DOI: 10.1002/admt.201900260

Link: Smart Functional Material Systems Lab, Dept. of Mechanical Engineering, University of Iowa, Iowa City, USA

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