A team of university researchers have created what they call the world’s first completely “soft” and self-contained robot — one that operates without pistons, wires, pincer fingers or a plasma sphere in the hole where the brain is supposed to be.
It’s called the Octobot, because it looks a little bit like an octopus and is also a little bit like a robot.
The drawback of the current model is that it can’t really do much in the way of industrial heavy lifting and doesn’t even have the strength required to turn a steering wheel; but that’s OK as its scientist creators say it’s likely to spend its future being cuddled by old people in health and medical scenarios, where softness and warmth is always preferred to cold steel and adapted pliers for hands.
The bouncy castle of robots
Octobot runs on gas so is a sort of pneumatic robot, with a chemical reaction transforming its onboard hydrogen peroxide liquid fuel into a gas that runs into its limbs and inflates them. So it’s about as robotic as a bouncy castle or a balloon animal, although through sequential manipulation of its limbs it could presumably learn how to walk one day.
The really clever part is how they used a microfluidic logic circuit to control these limb movements, ensuring the soft robot doesn’t need a solid chipset inside it to weakly waggle its tentacles.
Co-author of the paper Ryan Truby said of its conception: “The entire system is simple to fabricate. By combining three fabrication methods — soft lithography, molding, and 3-D printing — we can quickly manufacture these devices.”
So as with most clever new modern things, they just need to find a use for it now they’ve made it.