When illuminated with UV light, the intelligent material with the adhesive surface bends. This way it can lift, transport and put down flat and three-dimensional objects (here, a 1 millimeter diameter glass sphere). Photo/Copyright: Emre Kizilkan

A new development could enable businesses to transport objects remotely using adhesive material controlled by light.

Scientists from Kiel University are researching how to artificially create an adhesive mechanism after succeeding in developing a bioinspired adhesive material that can be controlled remotely by using a UV light.

The science group developed an elastic porous material—liquid crystal elastomer—that bends when illuminated with UV light because of its special molecular structure. This advancement could be utilized in robotics and medical technology. The research also could be used when building sensitive sensors or micro computer chips.

Emre Kizilkan, of the Functional Morphology and Biomechanics research group at the Zoological Institute, explained how the adhesive material was developed.

“Due to their structures, porous materials can be very easily incorporated to other materials,” Kizilkan said in a statement. “So we tested what happens when we combined the elastic material, which reacts well to light, with a bioinspired material that has good adhesive properties.”

The surface of the material consists of mushroom-shaped adhesive microstructures, similar to those on a type of beetle.

When the composite material is illuminated with a UV light it will bend, which allows more and more adhesive elements to detach from the object until it can finally be dropped down again.

“We were able to show that our new material can be used to transport objects,” Kizilkan said. “Moreover, we demonstrated that the transport can be controlled very precisely with light—on a micro-level."

Animals, including beetles and geckos, use similar adhesive mechanisms when they walk upside down on the ceiling. These animals use mechanical stimuli such as muscle movements to ensure that their legs adhere to surfaces and can be detached again.

The scientists in Kiel have built their models inspired by these creatures to utilize light as the control for the adhesive material.

 “The advantage of light is that it can be used very precisely,” Kizilkan said. “It is reversible, so it can be switched on and off again and that very quickly.”

Gorb added that the light is used as a remote control.

“We use light as a remote control, so to say. Our bioinspired adhesive material doesn't leave any residues on the objects, either,” Gorb said in a statement.

The study was published in Science Robotics.