DARPA’s soft robot is made of silicone. It can walk, change colour and light up in the dark; it can even change temperature – and it can do all of this for less than R1 000.
Researchers have demonstrated that microfluidic channels in soft robots enable functions including actuation, camouflage, display, fluid transport and temperature regulation. Their research is being conducted under the so-called Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) programme run by America’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
The agency foresees robots of many shapes and sizes contributing to a wide range of future missions, but robotics has so far focused much of its attention on complex hardware. Consequently, the costs associated with robotics are typically very high. Focusing on silicone-based soft robots, it has developed a low-cost manufacturing method that uses moulds.
By introducing narrow channels into the moulds through which air and various types of fluids can be pumped, a robot can be made to change its colour, contrast, apparent shape and temperature to blend with its environment, glow through chemiluminescence and, most importantly, achieve movement through pneumatic pressurisation and inflation of the channels.
Catch DARPA’s soft robot in action…