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Korean scientists engineer stretchable battery capable of moving like snake scales

South Korean scientists have developed a flexible battery that bends and stretches like a snake, an innovation that could find application in advanced wearable devices and soft robots used in disaster management.

Engineers from the Korea Institute of Machinery and Materials (KIMM) said the battery’s structure draws inspiration from snake scales, which while rigid, can fold together to protect against external impact, and also possess traits that allow them to be highly stretchable and move flexibly.

The stretchable device, described in the journal Soft Robotics, enables flexible movement by connecting several small, hard batteries in a scale-like structure.

It consists of small, hexagonal battery cells resembling a snake scale which are connected together using a hinge mechanism made of a polymer and copper material to fold and unfold.

“This study proposes a novel structure with individual, overlapping units, similar to snake scales that can be used to construct shape-morphing batteries for untethered soft robots,” the scientists wrote in the study.

In order to minimise deformation, the scientists say they optimised the design of the individual scale-like structures composing the battery.

Flexible battery developed by KIMM engineers shown on an individual’s arm

The scientists say designing the shape of the individual battery cells, and the connective components were the key aspects of this technological achievement.

“The folding lines mimic the hinge structure of snakeskin, enabling stable deformations without mechanical damage to rigid cells,” they added.

This current design, the researchers say, can be implemented in wearable soft robots such as smartwatches and in rehabilitation medical devices for the elderly and the sick who need physical assistance.

The researchers believe the battery innovation could also be useful as a power source for flexible soft robots used during disasters to help conduct rescue missions.

Flexible, stretchable battery technology developed by KIMM engineers applied to a soft robot with moveable joints like a snake to observe its flexibility when moving

Soft robots equipped with these batteries can crawl through narrow spaces blocked off by obstacles during disaster situations thanks to their ability to move flexibly and freely change shape.

In future studies, scientists hope to increase the energy storage capacity of these flexible batteries and develop multi-functional soft robots with artificial muscles.

Since the novel battery can be made by cutting and folding flexible electrodes using an origami-inspired manufacturing process, scientists say its current design also facilitates economical mass-production.

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