Normally robots are highly mechanical, rigid, packed full of actuators and electronic circuit boards, but not this one. You see this is what makes this robot so amazing because instead Harvard's Octobot is full of soft components yet a fully autonomous machine.
Given the name, it's not hard to work out where the engineers have taken their inspiration from. And why wouldn't you want to take your inspiration from Octopuses, they're amazing creatures which are able to morph and warp their bodies around obstacles. They are incredibly strong too given that they don't have an internal skeleton.
To date scientists have only been able to come up with soft robots that have had at least some hard components, but this time, they have been able to use soft components throughout by using a combination of 3D-printing, soft lithography and molding. The team behind it have also been able to make the robot entirely autonomous and free from any sort of external controls.
The robot is powered by a pneumatic, gas-powered propulsion system. The propulsion system is driven by controlled chemical reactions which converts liquid hydrogen peroxide into a gas. The gas then inflates the robot's arms. There are also a series of valves and switches which control the movement of the gasses which enables some tentacles to expand and some to contract, propelling the robot forward at a slow speed. The chemical reaction is controlled by a microfluidic logic circuit which was originally pioneered by chemist George Whitesides of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, again at Harvard University.
The robot is less than two centimeters high and will fit into the palm of your hand. It needs refueling after about eight minutes but larger versions will enable them to keep going for longer.
I think this is really the beginning for this kind of robot, a proof of concept if you like which will pave the way for more sophisticated robots that have advanced agility enabling them to interact with the environment in different ways. Who knows, in the future we might not been able to tell Octobots apart from their natural counterparts! Be sure to check out the video below, which shows the Octobot in action.
Photo credit: Lori Sanders
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