Using moves inspired from their study of deep-sea creatures, Harvard engineers have created soft robots to navigate areas previously unreachable by conventional 'bots and all their rigid parts.
These unique robots are constructed with soft materials known as "elastomers." Inside the elastomer body is a series of chambers that when filled with compressed air enable movement.
The flexibility of the construction and design allows the robot to adopt different patterns of movement. The fluidity of movement was tested in an obstacle course that would have been challenging for traditional metallic based robots. The "starfish robot" was able to slide under a gap of just two centimeters in under one minute by coordinating its movements to change shape and adapt to the space.
Aside from its more graceful gymnastics, the starfish bot should be able to overcome some situations that more rigid robots are susceptible to — such as falling on hard objects, crashing, getting bumped, jostled or tipped over.
The downside is the softer materials make it vulnerable to other hazards such as punctures from sharp objects. So, our hero here wouldn't win in a knife fight with a regular ol' 'bot — well, unless there happens to be a door nearby to ooze under.
Professor George Whitesides, Robert Shepherd and their colleagues from Harvard University in Cambridge, US, contributed to the project and details appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. See their creation moving in the video below.