Soft robots would be useful for a variety of things — they could grip objects with precision and sensitivity, and they could roll along more quietly than their counterparts with metal exoskeletons. Here is a new one that could do such tasks purely on its own, without any external power source or command center.
The robotics engineers at DLR, the German Aerospace Center, have a history of violent behavior with their mechanical creations — earlier this year, we saw them smash a robot's hand with a hammer, and last year we watched brave engineers give a robot a knife and let themselves be stabbed.
Shape-memory alloys that change shape when heated could become tiny mechanical muscles for electronic devices. New mechanical devices based on the alloys produce three to six times more torque than electric motors, and weigh just one-20th as much.
Such devices, known as actuators, can be cut from a flat sheet of metal just a fraction of a millimeter thick. They emerged from a roject that aims to build printable robots, where the robots would consist of both the metal actuators and plastic components that could be built layer-by-layer through a process similar to inkjet printing.
Microelectromechanical devices (MEMS) have the potential to enable a wide range of nanomachines. Unfortunately, MEMS suffer from the critical drawbacks of an expensive manufacturing process, a high rigidity that restricts their use, and a limited pool of suitable materials for construction. Now, it seems that MIT scientists have accidentally solved all those problems by stamping gold MEMS into a sheet of plastic.