Hydrogels have diverse chemical properties and can exhibit reversibly large mechanical deformations in response to external stimuli; these characteristics suggest that hydrogels are promising materials for soft robots. However, reported actuators based on hydrogels generally suffer from slow response speed and/or poor controllability due to intrinsic material limitations and electrode fabrication technologies. Here, we report a hydrogel actuator that operates at low voltages (<3 volts) with high performance (strain > 50%, energy density > 7 × 105 joules per cubic meter, and power density > 3 × 104 watts per cubic meter), surpassing existing hydrogel actuators and other types of electroactive soft actuators. The enhanced performance of our actuator is due to the formation of wrinkled nanomembrane electrodes that exhibit high conductivity and excellent mechanical deformation through capillary-assisted assembly of metal nanoparticles and deswelling-induced wrinkled structures. By applying an electric potential through the wrinkled nanomembrane electrodes that sandwich the hydrogel, we were able to trigger a reversible and substantial electroosmotic water flow inside a hydrogel film, which drove the controlled swelling of the hydrogel. The high energy efficiency and power density of our wrinkled nanomembrane electrode–induced actuator enabled the fabrication of an untethered insect-scale aquabot integrated with an on-board control unit demonstrating maneuverability with fast locomotion speed (1.02 body length per second), which occupies only 2% of the total mass of the robot.

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Supplementary Materials

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Published In

Science Robotics
Volume 7 | Issue 71
October 2022

Submission history

Received: 21 February 2022
Accepted: 19 September 2022


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Funding: This work was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) grant funded by the Korean government (MSIT; Ministry of Science and ICT) (NRF-2021R1A2C3004151 and NRF-2021R1C1C1011872) and the new faculty research fund of Ajou University and the Ajou University research fund.
Author contributions: J.K., J.-S.K., and J.C. conceived the idea and interpreted the results. J.K., C.K., D.K., Y.S., S.L., B.Y., S.H., D.K., J.-S.K., and J.C. designed and performed the experiments. J.H. conducted theoretical calculation and simulation. J.K., J.-S.K., and J.C. wrote and revised the manuscript. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.
Competing interests: The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Data and materials availability: All the data necessary to evaluate the conclusions of the paper are presented in the main text and the Supplementary Materials.



Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Korea University, 145 Anam-ro, Seongbuk-gu, Seoul 02841, Republic of Korea.
Roles: Conceptualization, Investigation, Methodology, Project administration, Validation, Visualization, and Writing - original draft.
Department of Mechanical Engineering, Ajou University, 206 Worldcup-ro, Yeongtong-gu, Suwon 16499, Republic of Korea.
Roles: Data curation, Formal analysis, Investigation, Methodology, Resources, Software, Validation, Visualization, and Writing - review & editing.
Department of Mechanical Engineering, Ajou University, 206 Worldcup-ro, Yeongtong-gu, Suwon 16499, Republic of Korea.
Roles: Investigation and Methodology.
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Korea University, 145 Anam-ro, Seongbuk-gu, Seoul 02841, Republic of Korea.
Roles: Conceptualization, Investigation, Methodology, Resources, Visualization, Writing - original draft, and Writing - review & editing.
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Korea University, 145 Anam-ro, Seongbuk-gu, Seoul 02841, Republic of Korea.
Roles: Conceptualization, Investigation, Methodology, Resources, Visualization, and Writing - review & editing.
Department of Chemical Engineering, Hanyang University, Seongdong-gu, Seoul 04763, Republic of Korea.
Roles: Investigation, Methodology, Writing - original draft, and Writing - review & editing.
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Korea University, 145 Anam-ro, Seongbuk-gu, Seoul 02841, Republic of Korea.
Department of Life Sciences, Korea University, Seoul 02841, Republic of Korea.
Roles: Formal analysis and Visualization.
Department of Mechanical Engineering, Ajou University, 206 Worldcup-ro, Yeongtong-gu, Suwon 16499, Republic of Korea.
Roles: Investigation, Methodology, Validation, and Visualization.
Department of Mechanical Engineering, Ajou University, 206 Worldcup-ro, Yeongtong-gu, Suwon 16499, Republic of Korea.
Roles: Investigation and Methodology.
Department of Mechanical Engineering, Ajou University, 206 Worldcup-ro, Yeongtong-gu, Suwon 16499, Republic of Korea.
Roles: Conceptualization, Funding acquisition, Investigation, Methodology, Resources, Supervision, Validation, and Writing - original draft.
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Korea University, 145 Anam-ro, Seongbuk-gu, Seoul 02841, Republic of Korea.
KU-KIST Graduate School of Converging Science and Technology, Korea University, 145 Anam-ro, Seongbuk-gu, Seoul 02841, Republic of Korea.
Roles: Conceptualization, Data curation, Funding acquisition, Investigation, Methodology, Project administration, Resources, Supervision, Validation, Visualization, Writing - original draft, and Writing - review & editing.

Funding Information


Corresponding author. Email: [email protected] (J.C.); [email protected] (J.-S.K.)

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