A silicone robot completely free of electronic parts may sound futuristic, but that’s exactly what researchers at Harvard University have created. Based on the shape and motion of the octopus, the “octobot” is the world’s first completely soft robot, and its motion is completely autonomous.
To create the octobot, Harvard researchers used a combination of 3D printing, soft lithography, and molding to shape the robot’s body from silicone. Rather than a traditional battery or electronic components, the small robot is pneumatic-based, meaning it’s powered by gas under pressure. The robot uses a small amount of hydrogen peroxide as fuel. A chemical reaction to platinum within the bot creates gas which inflates the octobot’s tentacles like balloons. A microfluidic logic circuit controls the flow of fuel in the octobot’s limbs, inflating four at a time to propel the device forward.
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At present, the octobot can’t do much – scientists are not yet able to steer it in any particular direction as it moves, and the liquid fuel only lasts between four and eight minutes. However, future models will include sensors that allow the robot to detect nearby objects and steer toward or away from them. It’s a fascinating proof of concept: the robots of the future may look like nothing like what we’ve envisioned.
Images via Harvard University