Biomorphic structural batteries for robotics
Batteries with conformal shape and multiple functionalities could provide new degrees of freedom in the design of robotic devices. For example, the ability to provide both load bearing and energy storage can increase the payload and extend the operational range for robots. However, realizing these kinds of structural power devices requires the development of materials with suitable mechanical and ion transport properties. Here, we report biomimetic aramid nanofibers–based composites with cartilage-like nanoscale morphology that display an unusual combination of mechanical and ion transport properties. Ion-conducting membranes from these aramid nanofiber composites enable pliable zinc-air batteries with cyclic performance exceeding 100 hours that can also serve as protective covers in various robots including soft and flexible miniaturized robots. The unique properties of the aramid ion conductors are attributed to the percolating network architecture of nanofibers with high connectivity and strong nanoscale filaments designed using a graph theory of composite architecture when the continuous aramid filaments are denoted as edges and intersections are denoted as nodes. The total capacity of these body-integrated structural batteries is 72 times greater compared with a stand-alone Li-ion battery with the same volume. These materials and their graph theory description enable a new generation of robotic devices, body prosthetics, and flexible and soft robotics with nature-inspired distributed energy storage.