August 25, 2016

NOBODY TELL NOTORIOUS ROBOPHOBE MATTHEW YGLESIAS ABOUT THIS: Squishy “Octobot” Heralds New Era of Soft Robotics.

Interest in soft robots has taken off in recent years, as engineers look beyond rigid Terminator-type machines to designs that can squeeze into tight spaces, mould to their surroundings, or handle delicate objects safely. But engineering soft versions of key parts has challenged researchers. “The brains, the electronics, the batteries—those components were all hard,” says roboticist Daniela Rus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “This work is new and really exciting.”

The octobot is made of silicone rubber. Its ‘brain’ is a flexible microfluidic circuit that directs the flow of liquid fuel through channels using pressure-activated valves and switches. “It’s an analogy of what would be an electrical circuit normally,” says engineer Robert Wood at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, one of the study’s leaders. “Instead of passing electrons around, we’re passing liquids and gases.”

The prototype in the video doesn’t do much, or do it quickly. But it’s a fascinating proof-of-concept.

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