Robots Go Soft
Traditional robots are many things, but flexible is not necessarily one of them. So how would you design a more flexible, lightweight robot? A team of researchers at Boston University has constructed pneumatic prototypes made of paper and silicone rubber that could provide a “soft” alternative to metal robots.
The robots are shaped with molded silicone and constructed using paper, fabric and wire mesh. By carefully designing how the robots are folded, the scientists can direct their activities using compressed air. In one example, the researchers lifted a two-pound weight using a silicone and paper tube.
According to the research:
Paper, when used to introduce anisotropy into elastomers, can be readily folded into 3D structures following the principles of origami; these folded structures increase the stiffness and anisotropy of the elastomeric actuators, while being light in weight. These soft actuators can manipulate objects with moderate performance; for example, they can lift loads up to 120 times their weight. They can also be combined with other components, for example, electrical components, to increase their functionality.
Last year, the researchers published a paper (“Soft Robotics for Chemists”) in Angewandte Chemie International Edition detailing how pneumatic networks (PneuNets) could be used in soft devices that could be used to create devices that act as “compliant grippers for handling fragile objects,” including a structure that could safely grip a raw egg without breaking it.
You can see a video of one of the “soft robots” below: