Harvard researchers have blended organic chemistry, soft materials science, and robotics to create a soft robot inspired by animals like squid and worms.
The soft robot has no hard internal skeleton and uses no sensors. It crawls by using a network of valves and tubes that guide air into and out of four elastomer leg compartments called ‘pneu-nets’ and a body section.
The pneumatically actuated robot can navigate obstacles using one of several gaits–walking, crawling, and slithering–and it can deflate to pass through tiny little gaps.
In an earlier experiment, Whitesides and his colleagues created a starfish-shaped gripper using elastic polymers that inflate like balloons for actuation. The soft gripper was able to perform delicate tasks such as picking up eggs.
Soft robots can’t yet handle heavy loads or conduct electricity, but the researchers believe that eventually they may be able to by incorporating the right materials.