Researchers building soft robots have been hampered by finding alternatives for control systems and electric power for the robots. Circuit boards and batteries are rigid and previous models of soft robots have either had these hard components rigged, or have been tethered to an off-board system.
A team of researchers from Harvard University has built a soft robot that has no electronics. The robot is powered by a chemical reaction controlled by microfluidics. The team consisting of members with experience in mechanical engineering, microfluidics and 3D printing, affectionately call their creation the octobot. Octopuses have no internal skeleton, yet they can perform incredible feats of dexterity and strength. This has made them a long-standing inspiration for soft robotics.
Octobot is small and has been created through 3D printing. It is not tethered to any external hardware and is entirely soft. Researchers believe it will be the forerunner of a new generation of completely autonomous, soft machines. The research has proven that key components of a simple, entirely soft robot can easily be manufactured and that rigid components like electronic controls and batteries can be replaced by equivalent soft systems. The foundation for more complex designs has now been laid.
The team used a hybrid assembly approach and 3D printed each of the functional components including actuation, power and fuel storage. This approach allows for rapid production time. Octobot’s creation demonstrates that the strategy of integrated design and additive fabrication is feasible for embedding autonomous functionality.
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