Ever sit alone in your room and think to yourself, “If only I had a soft robot to call my own.” All right, so that scenario is pretty unlikely, but for those who might have wondered how to create a squishy automaton, Harvard has the blueprints you’ll need.
In collaboration with Trinity College Dublin, Harvard University has created what they’re calling the Soft Robotics Toolkit, an online resource for the budding soft robot-maker. The toolkit gives individuals the “intellectual raw materials” they’ll need for creating and building robots from flexible substances.
The site has everything from tips on how to manufacture PneuNets Bending Actuators to case studies of soft robots built for specific purposes (such as a flexible glove that helps with grasping objects). But perhaps the main draw of the toolkit is its “open design” theme. Any user can take plans and details that have been posted from previous researchers and build upon them. They can then submit their own building efforts to the site for others to review.
“One thing we’ve seen in design courses is that students greatly benefit from access to more experienced peers—say, postdocs in a research lab—who can guide them through their work,” says Dónal Holland, a graduate student at Trinity College Dublin and one of the lead developers of the toolkit. “But scaling that up is difficult; you quickly run out of time and people. The toolkit is designed to capture the expertise and make it easily accessible to students.”
While the site practically holds your hand through the robot building process, it does leave out one vital element: the actual materials. You’ll have to buy those yourself in order to make the magic happen.
Otherwise, Harvard has seemingly built the go-to source for soft robotics, a field that has been gaining steam in the past few years. Soft robots take a cue from biological systems, harnessing the elastic mechanics of the body to move more fluidly. Researchers are starting to realize that robots made with pliable materials can perform a wider range of tasks and are much more indestructible than their rigid counterparts.
Watch a video explaining the Soft Robotics Toolkit below: