As researchers look to the future of robotics, they’re searching for the best ways to make them as pliable, maneuverable and biological (ahem, human-like!) as possible. The newest field—soft robotics—is aiming to create a robot that doesn’t have hard components, such as batteries and circuit boards, and doesn’t have to be tethered to a nearby circuit system.
Scientists around the world are developing the best options, often using 3D printing technology to mimic animals such as snakes and octopi. In the U.S., robotics researchers at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are leading the way in soft robots, many times by funding through federal groups such as the National Science Foundation.
“One longstanding vision for the field of soft robotics has been to create robots that are entirely soft, but the struggle has always been in replacing rigid components like batteries and electronic controls with analogous soft systems and then putting it all together,” said Robert Wood, a Harvard engineering professor.
Wood and colleagues recently published about the first entirely soft robot in the journal Nature.
See images of the Harvard robot, as well as recent ones from MIT and the BioRobotics Institute in Italy.
Carolyn Crist is a freelance health and science journalist for regional and national publications. She writes the Escape Artist column for Paste Travel, On the Mind column for Paste Science and Stress Test column for Paste Health.