A new robot that combines rigid surfaces and soft ones has been created by researchers at Harvard University and University of California at San Diego.
Making perfect use of 3D printing technology and the latest research that increasingly looks to nature for ‘soft’ robotics inspiration, Michael Tolley from the University of California at San Diego and Nicholas Bartlett from Harvard University created a robot composed of two modules and tripod like legs.
A perfect combination of both rigid and soft surfaces, the robot jumps quite high and bounces without breaking thanks to the softer flexible bottom. This lower half also allows the bot to move quite rapidly.
In the bottom cavity of the lower module, the butane and oxygen used to power the bot are lighted. They are responsible for prompting the bot into high jumps and motion.
The top module is made of nine 3D printed layers that gradually shift from soft to rigid, from the exterior to the interior of the module.
Together, the two modules form the soft armor that protects the rigid interior which in turn is the protective chamber of the robot’s circuit board and power source. A short video was made available to show how the 3D printed robot performs during testing.
After viewing the video, we can say the test was impressive. The 3D printed robot combinging the soft and rigid surfaces jumped 2 1/2 feet in height and hopped ½ a foot forward each time for a little over 100 times.
The researchers also compared the bot to a fully rigid version of itself. Unsurprisingly, while the 3D printed soft-rigid bot fell without a scratch 35 times, the lesser version partially smashed to pieces.
Michael Tolley and Nicholas Bartlett stated their inspiration lays in nature. The technology behind the 3D printed robot is an adaptation of a mechanism displayed by a species of mussel. When the mussel touches rock, the soft foot turns hard to avoid injuries.
Lately, another team of researchers looked at nature for inspiration, finding the flexible yet highly resistant tail of the seahorse to be the future of soft robotics.
As such, Tolley and Bartlett as well believe that the flexibility of soft materials combined with rigid one could lead to:
“fast, agile robots that are more robust and adaptable than their predecessors, that can safely work side by side with humans”.
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