Nature provides much inspiration for the design of materials capable of motion upon exposure to external stimuli, and many examples of such active systems have been created in the laboratory. However, to achieve continuous motion driven by an unchanging, constant stimulus has proven extremely challenging. Here we describe a liquid crystalline polymer film doped with a visible light responsive fluorinated azobenzene capable of continuous chaotic oscillatory motion when exposed to ambient sunlight in air. The presence of simultaneous illumination by blue and green light is necessary for the oscillating behaviour to occur, suggesting that the dynamics of continuous forward and backward switching are causing the observed effect. Our work constitutes an important step towards the realization of autonomous, persistently self-propelling machines and self-cleaning surfaces powered by sunlight.
It is highly desirable, yet challenging to build actuators in a dry environment that can undergo autonomous oscillation. Here, Kumar et al. achieve this goal in a soft actuator based on the use of a nematic liquid crystal film doped by ortho-fluoroazobenzene that is responsive to sunlight.