Robots have come a long way since ancient Greek mathematician, Archytas, released a steam-powered wooden dove dubbed “The Pigeon” in 350 B.C. However, the Terminator-type rigidity of the machines has hindered them from being useful at tasks like search and rescue operations. While researchers have recently created softer and more flexible robots, they still contain hard electric power and control systems — such as batteries and circuit boards.
Now, thanks to a team led by Harvard University professors, Robert Wood and Jennifer A. Lewis, there is finally a breakthrough. The adorable autonomous octobot that stands a mere 2cm tall has no rigid parts, enabling it to squeeze through the tiniest of spaces, just like the crafty octopus, it was designed after.
The octobot, which is made of silicone rubber, is fueled by a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water. The liquid that is pumped into the robot’s body through a series of 3-D printed pneumatic chambers reacts with the flecks of platinum that are embedded within the octobot and forms water and oxygen. The released gas builds up the pressure in the controller and inflates the chambers in the robot's arms, causing them to move.
The researchers, who unveiled the revolutionary robot in the scientific journal Nature on August 24, say that octobot is currently just a proof of concept and not ready for the real world. That’s because the liquid battery only provides power for about eight minutes. Additionally, the prototype lacks controls and therefore cannot be steered in any direction. The team hopes to resolve the issues in their next version of the soft robot, which will be able to crawl, swim, and sense obstacles in the environment.
Wood believes that the octobot’s easy-to-build design, low cost, and the fact that it can be scaled up to increase fuel capacity will encourage other scientists and roboticists to create more intricate designs. Barbara Mazzolai and Virgilio Mattoli of the Italian Institute of Technology’s Center for Micro-BioRobotics, who were not involved in the study, agree. The researchers say, “Although soft robotics is still in its infancy, it holds great promise for several applications, such as servicing and inspecting machinery, search-and-rescue operations, and exploration.” The researchers think the soft robots may even help improve our quality of life. Given how adorable they are, we wholeheartedly agree with that statement.
Resources: news.harvard.edu, sciencemag.com,nature,com