A research team from Harvard University has developed semi-soft robots capable of standing, walking and even striding across water. Behold the arthrobots.
In an effort to create more agile robots, Harvard’s George Whiteside and Alex Nemiroski decided to make machines that move like insects. The team emulate the movement of spiders or bugs by using drinking straws as the basic frame of the soft robots.
“If you look around the world, there are a lot of things, like spiders and insects, that are very agile. They can move rapidly, climb on various items, and are able to do things that large, hard robots can’t do because of their weight and form factor. They are among the most versatile organisms on the planet. The question was, how can we build something like that?” Whiteside told the Harvard Gazette.
How the semi-soft robots are made
To start with, the team cut slits into regular plastic drinking straws to make them bendable. A short length of rubber tubing was then inserted inside the straws and when inflated this tubing forced the joints to extend. A rubber tendon was also attached to each side allowing the joint to retract when the tubing was deflated. The first of the semi-soft robots was essentially just a straw that could drag itself forward.
By adding more legs to their creation, they could regulate different movements using a simple hand-controlled syringe to pump air into the joints. Finally hitting a wall at an eight-legged arthrobot, the duo had to rely on computers to control the sequence of the limbs.
Moving beyond this point would require new materials and a entirely different paradigm for controlling the leg movements.
Whitesides believes the techniques used in their development particularly the use of simple materials can point the way toward future innovations. Eventually a more refined version of these robots could be used in surveillance or during search operations following natural disasters.
The arthrobots may not be the most durable machines, but they’re cheap, effective, and uncomplicated to build.
Sourced: Harvard Gazette