Bots discussed in our series “Robot Archaeology” to date have been rather rigid, hard bodied robots. Another area of research suggests mimicking nature in making robots, the ability to bend, has great promise in doing things wheeled robots have a hard time doing.
Grippers may be made of a number of materials in a process called jamming where granular material becomes hard when compressed. MAKE has an excellent example of this type of gripper in this Instructable and iRobot has their version in this Youtube video.
A flexible surface can also have another material on it to give it different properties when bending or moving. This is good for finger like movements and locomotion.
And using pneumatics, moving air in and out of things, you can make a number of squishy movements that rigid robotics have difficulty replicating. Pneumatics was used to power the movements of the Chuck E Cheese robots. A student team has even taken the flexible surface bot above and made it pneumatic actuated (right). Adafruit has explored a number of soft robotics using pneumatic technology in prior posts.
The IEEE Robotics and Automation Society is very excited about soft robotics, holding their first conference on the subject last month in Italy. The Journal of Soft Robotics is also an excellent resource for innovations in the field.
Also for Show and tell viewers of past and present, check out Aidan’s creations.
What soft robotics technology are you excited about? What projects, people, and companies can we add here? Let us know in the comments below!
Baymax image source (WP:NFCC#4).