Structured light enables biomimetic swimming and versatile locomotion of photoresponsive soft microrobots
Microorganisms move in challenging environments by periodic changes in body shape. In contrast, current artificial microrobots cannot actively deform, exhibiting at best passive bending under external fields. Here, by taking advantage of the wireless, scalable and spatiotemporally selective capabilities that light allows, we show that soft microrobots consisting of photoactive liquid-crystal elastomers can be driven by structured monochromatic light to perform sophisticated biomimetic motions. We realize continuum yet selectively addressable artificial microswimmers that generate travelling-wave motions to self-propel without external forces or torques, as well as microrobots capable of versatile locomotion behaviours on demand. Both theoretical predictions and experimental results confirm that multiple gaits, mimicking either symplectic or antiplectic metachrony of ciliate protozoa, can be achieved with single microswimmers. The principle of using structured light can be extended to other applications that require microscale actuation with sophisticated spatiotemporal coordination for advanced microrobotic technologies.