Hydrogel actuators are important for designing stimuli-sensitive soft robots. They generate
mechanical motion by exploiting compartmentalized (de)swelling in response to a stimulus. However, classical switching methods, such as manually lowering or increasing the pH, cannot provide more complex autonomous motions. By coupling an autonomously operating pH-flip with programmable lifetimes to a hydrogel system containing pH-responsive and non-responsive compartments, autonomous forward and backward motion as well as more complex tasks, such as interlocking of “puzzle pieces” and collection of objects are realized. All operations are initiated by one simple trigger and the devices operate in a “fire and forget” mode. More complex self-regulatory behavior is obtained by adding chemo-mechano-chemo feedback mechanisms. Due to its simplicity, this method shows great potential for the autonomous operation of soft grippers and metamaterials.