Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering


Wanliang Shan


Smart materials, Soft robotics, Tunable stiffness


This doctoral research, Designing LMPA (Low Melting Point Alloy) Based Smart Materials for Soft Robotics Applications, includes the following topics: (1) Introduction; (2) Robust Bicontinuous Metal-Elastomer Foam Composites with Highly Tunable Mechanical Stiffness; (3) Actively Morphing Drone Wing Design Enabled by Smart Materials for Green Unmanned Aerial Vehicles; (4) Dynamically Tunable Friction via Subsurface Stiffness Modulation; (5) LMPA Wool Sponge Based Smart Materials with Tunable Electrical Conductivity and Tunable Mechanical Stiffness for Soft Robotics; and (6) Contributions and Future Work.Soft robots are developed to interact safely with environments. Smart composites with tunable properties have found use in many soft robotics applications including robotic manipulators, locomotors, and haptics. The purpose of this work is to develop new smart materials with tunable properties (most importantly, mechanical stiffness) upon external stimuli, and integrate these novel smart materials in relevant soft robots. Stiffness tunable composites developed in previous studies have many drawbacks. For example, there is not enough stiffness change, or they are not robust enough. Here, we explore soft robotic mechanisms integrating stiffness tunable materials and innovate smart materials as needed to develop better versions of such soft robotic mechanisms. First, we develop a bicontinuous metal-elastomer foam composites with highly tunable mechanical stiffness. Second, we design and fabricate an actively morphing drone wing enabled by this smart composite, which is used as smart joints in the drone wing. Third, we explore composite pad-like structures with dynamically tunable friction achieved via subsurface stiffness modulation (SSM). We demonstrate that when these composite structures are properly integrated into soft crawling robots, the differences in friction of the two ends of these robots through SSM can be used to generate translational locomotion for untethered crawling robots. Also, we further develop a new class of smart composite based on LMPA wool sponge with tunable electrical conductivity and tunable stiffness for soft robotics applications. The implications of these studies on novel smart materials design are also discussed.


Open Access