Advances in soft robotics promise machines with a human touch

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While the futurists of the past imagined a world populated by robots made of wires, sensors, and servos underneath layers of carbon-fiber composites, the emerging field of soft robotics promises machines constructed out of parts whose resiliency, flexibility, and durability will be very similar to those of living organisms.

At the inaugural O’Reilly Solid Conference held in May, Brooklyn-based Super-Releaser, a rising star in the field of soft robotics, offered an impressive demonstration of robot prototypes that inflated, crawled and twisted before crowds of wide-eyed industry insiders.

Developed in collaboration with a multidisciplinary team of artists, designers, and engineers, two of Super-Releaser’s latest works-in-progress give us an intriguing glimpse into the future of soft robotics.

The Glaucus

Named after the blue sea slug Glaucus Atlanticus, the Glaucus has no hard moving parts and features a 3D printed rubber exterior. Inside the Glaucus is hollow, and when its empty chambers are pressurized, its limbs alternately bend and deform for movement.

Although the Glaucus is fun to watch slither across the surface of a table, the project’s ultimate goal is to inspire “orthotic cuffs and prosthetic sleeves” that can aid either in the rehabilitation of injured patients, or assist in the fitting of prosthetic limbs.

glaucussleeve

Trefoil

This vacuum cast tentacle twists, turns, and reaches as if in search of prey. Composed of three printed parts with a wax core in the center, the is highly durable and cheap to produce. The Trefoil is operated through an Arduino controller connected to a Darlington transistor that “”

The Trefoil’s ability to grip and wrap itself around humans objects is certain to someday evolve into benefiting a variety of manufacturing, research, and emergency relief settings.

Artificial Muscle Robot Hand

With only 1,632 views on YouTube as of July 7th, 2014, Instructables open-source user Mikey77‘s robot hand is a hidden gem that warrants attention not only for its ingenuity, but also for its DIY enthusiasm. This proof of concept robot hand is made out of 3D printed silicon rubber muscles whose fingers are powered by compressed air. Although the fingers are wobbly, future versions promise increased strength.

With such a diverse mix of DIY inventors, research firms and multidisciplinary collectives hard at work, the future of soft robotics is set to undermine all of our preconceived notions about the future of robotics.

 

 

 

About Author

Kristian strives to enlighten and entertain readers. In addition to his teaching and editorial responsibilities, he is working on a science-fiction novel that promises not to include exoskeleton suits and anemic aliens floating in mysterious vats of green-tinted goop.