Whether we thing of SF robots or industrial robots, we typically think of them as being metallic machines, cold to the touch. Workers are asked to keep a safe distance from industrial robots as their speed, force and accuracy in their task can make them quite dangerous in case of an accident.
But there’s another kind of robots: soft robots. People have stayed away from them for a long while as they used to be slow, difficult to build, and even harder to make autonomous. The flaw used to be in the components themselves as most sensors, motors, batteries, pumps and microcontrollers are generally rigid.
Soft robots do have certain advantages however, they are known for being resilient and adaptable. It is because of this that a team of researchers from Harvard have decided to use 3D printing technology in order to combine the best features of both robots in a single design. On top of everything, the invention is autonomous.
The body of the robot transitions from soft to hard, which causes the stress to reduce in the areas where rigid components join wit the soft material, and increase the robot’s resilience.
The body was created in a single continuous print job and given a monolithic design which increases the invention’s strength and robustness. And since the machine doesn’t have any traditional sliding parts or joints, it’s not likely to collect dirt or debris and could come in handy in the exploration of harsh terrains.
Robert J. Wood, senior author and Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences from Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), gave a statement informing that what robot engineers working in the field of soft robots are trying to do is create robots that are completely soft.
He went on to add that they still have to consider the practical side of things, which is why these soft machines typically end up having some rigid components such as batteries and control electronics. However, he did point out that the newly developed robot is special in that it integrates the rigid components with the soft body “through a gradient of material properties, eliminating an abrupt, hard-to-soft transition that is often a failure point”.
When it wants to move, the robot starts by inflating its pneumatic legs so that they tilt the body in the direction that the machine wants to go in. The next step is for the oxygen and butane to mix together and ignite in order to catapult the robot up into the air. It has the remarkable ability of jumping up six (6) times its body height, but it also jumps sideways half its body width.
The robot engineers believe that its jumping skills will allow it to move quickly in the field and get past obstacles very easily.
Nicholas Bartlett, first author and a graduate student from Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), gave a statement of his own, sharing that what’s particularly nice about soft robots is that researchers can abuse them a great deal without having to worry about anything.
He went on to explain that the robot’s stiffness gradient makes it possible for it to survive the impact caused by dozens of landings and to withstand the combustion event that it requires in order to be able to jump. Bartlett also pointed out that the robot has better robustness and can locomote a lot faster than more traditional soft robits.
The study was published earlier this month, on July 10, 2015, in the journal Science.
Image Source: news.harvard.edu