American scientists have engineered the first self-contained, soft robot – an octobot with eight gas-powered arms.
Moving without batteries or wires, the autonomous machine marks a major breakthrough for the field of soft robotics.
Ryan Truby, a PhD student from Harvard University, told the BBC: “Many of the previous embodiments required tethers to external controllers or power sources.
“What we’ve tried to do is actually to replace these hardware components entirely and have a completely soft robotic system.”
Researchers hope the robot will pave the way for the development of machines that will one day perform operations and rescue missions.
In a statement, a Harvard spokesperson said octopuses had long inspired engineers: “These curious creatures can perform incredible feats of strength and dexterity with no internal skeleton.”
The octobot’s movements are pre-programmed into a circuit board made of tiny pipes. A chemical reaction inside the octobot triggers the release of gas into the octobot’s arms, inflating them like a balloon.
“Fuel sources for soft robots have always relied on some type of rigid components,” said Michael Wehner, a postdoctoral fellow in the Wood lab and co-first author of the paper. “The wonderful thing about hydrogen peroxide is that a simple reaction between the chemical and a catalyst — in this case platinum — allows us to replace rigid power sources.”
But it might be some time before the octobot is operating on humans. Right now, it’s limited sitting in one place and slowly lifting its arms up and down.
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