Nat Commun. 2023 Aug 21;14(1):5070. doi: 10.1038/s41467-023-40827-4.
Light-driven actuators have great potential in different types of applications. However, it is still challenging to apply them in flying devices owing to their slow response, small deflection and force output and low frequency response. Herein, inspired by the structure of vine maple seeds, we report a helicopter-like rotary flying photoactuator (in response to 0.6 W/cm2 near-infrared (NIR) light) with ultrafast rotation (~7200 revolutions per minute) and rapid response (~650 ms). This photoactuator is operated based on a fundamentally different mechanism that depends on the synergistic interactions between the photothermal graphene and the hygroscopic agar/silk fibroin components, the subsequent aerodynamically favorable airscrew formation, the jet propulsion, and the aerodynamics-based flying. The soft helicopter-like photoactuator exhibits controlled flight and steering behaviors, making it promising for applications in soft robotics and other miniature devices.