Coupling soft bodies and dynamic motions with multifunctional flexible electronics is challenging, but is essential in satisfying the urgent and soaring demands of fully soft and comprehensive robotic systems that can perform tasks in spite of rigorous spatial constraints. Here, the mobility and adaptability of liquid droplets with the functionality of flexible electronics, and techniques to use droplets as carriers for flexible devices are combined. The resulting active droplets (ADs) with volumes ranging from 150 to 600 µL can conduct programmable functions, such as sensing, actuation, and energy harvesting defined by the carried flexible devices and move under the excitation of gravitational force or magnetic force. They work in both dry and wet environments, and adapt to the surrounding environment through reversible shape shifting. These ADs can achieve controllable motions at a maximum velocity of 226 cm min−1 on a dry surface and 32 cm min-1 in a liquid environment. The conceptual system may eventually lead to individually addressable ADs that offer sophisticated functions for high-throughput molecule analysis, drug assessment, chemical synthesis, and information collection.


Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Research Center/Lab(s)

Center for Research in Energy and Environment (CREE)


This work is supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China under Grant No. 61604108, the Natural science Foundation of Tianjin under Grant No. 16JCYBJC40600, and the Independent Innovation fund in Tianjin University.

Keywords and Phrases

Active Droplets; Controllable Motions; Environmental Adaptability; Flexible Electronics; Multifunctionality

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)


Document Type

Article - Journal

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Final Version

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Publication Date

01 Dec 2019