Most robots are built rigid and will break under strain--their durability and resilience is more or less dictated by the amount of stress their material components can withstand before breaking down. But a soft robot--one that lacks a rigid structure--could do all sorts of things, like change its shape and method of movement or survive unique kinds of stresses. And to that end, researchers have built a flexible, pneumatic robot that is exactly that: soft.
Described in an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, this is a quadrupedal robot that can alter its shape to move across surfaces and squeeze over and around obstacles. Lacking rigid mechanical parts, it can alter its gait and shape to deal with difficult terrain or execute a wide range of movements to negotiate unique obstacles. It does all of this without the cogs, joints, pistons, and motors that drive conventional rigid robots. Rather, it is driven by air.
Softbot was inspired by animals like squid and worms that lack the hard skeletons found in mammals, and like those animals it still must become somewhat rigid in order to establish locomotion. Using soft lithography, the researchers fabricated the robot to be actuated by compressed air, allowing each appendage an extremely wide range of independently controlled rigidity and motion. Yet even with this versatile range of motion, the overall design remains simple: a soft-bodied framework, a valving system to channel the air to the proper actuators, and zero electronic sensors.
That makes for a simple robotic system that achieves a wide range of actuation without requiring a lot of mechanical complexity or power. In the video below you can see it crawl, but it can also shimmy through tight spaces or undulate over an obstacle that would likely stymie a tracked or legged rigid robot. More details are available in the full paper, available here.
I have to believe this has already been done long long ago in some special effect science fiction movie. It is creepy and cool, but the technology seems easy to do too.
I am just so Qurious!
Nice! If this thing were fitted with a camera, made smaller and sent into a potentially hostile zone it could do wonders.
I see its umbilical cord. One thing that bugs me a lot is that many robots are plugged into something bigger outside of it. Still this is more of a proof of concept, the prototype isn't really expected to survive on it's own. Hopefully v2 will be self sustaining.
Watching this device it took a minute to move off the strong. I could hear ( I guess) the clicking of values in the background. It would be nice if it was quiet too.
THis is a Cool Gadget!
I could not make one.
I am just so Qurious!
This is a great concept. If I had one I'd attach a large parachute and make it fly itself by atatching the limbs to the strings and making them all move at the same time simultaniously up and down. Willing to bet the parachute would allow it to lift itself and all it would then need is a long thin pole atatched in the center to allow the parachute to also rise when the limbs are just coming back up . The pole would be fairly flexible to allow the stress while limbs pull strings to then pull itself up again while pole pushes up parachute and repeats the process .. FLY LITTLE X SHAPED GUMBY , FLY!
The way it moves reminds of mortally wounded people struggling to even crawl... Creepy?