The Softer Side of Robots

Harvard researchers draw inspiration from the shape and functioning of an octopus as part of their soft robot research.


Some robots are designed to be cute and cuddly, while others are simply a fancier take on industrial equipment. Both styles of robots make liberal use of metal and plastic parts—a scenario some researchers are trying to change with their work in soft robotics.

A team of scientists at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard has come up with an Octobot design that is notable for two reasons: Its lack of hard parts and its autonomous operation. As noted in an article on TechCrunch, the robot, which looks amazingly like the serpent-like sea creature, has a body that is inlaid with channels that power and control its movement. Hydrogen peroxide serves as the robot’s fuel, creating a chemical reaction that sets off a pneumatic movement.

The Octobot doesn’t stop there. It doesn’t need the researchers to provide power or guide its movement—it has what the article describes as a "microfluidic network" that can orchestrate the inflation process on its own, in a predetermined sequence. The microfluid logic serves a logic circuit to direct the flow of fuel just like a traditional circuit board. Throw in the fact that the Octobot was produced on a 3D printer and the researchers are really making waves.

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