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Now, 'soft robots' that can walk through flames

tech reviews Updated: Sep 12, 2014 11:48 IST
Applied Sciences

Scientists have developed the first untethered soft robot that can tread over a variety of adverse environmental conditions including snow, puddles of water, flames .

Developed in the lab of Robert Wood, the Charles River Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the robot can carry on its back all the equipment it needs to operate - micro-compressors, control systems, and batteries.

Researcher Michael Tolley said that earlier versions of soft robots were all tethered, which works fine in some applications, but what they wanted to do was challenge people's concept of what a robot has to look like and they think the reason people have settled on using metal and rigid materials for robots is because they're easier to model and control. This work is very inspired by nature, and we wanted to demonstrate that soft materials can also be the basis for robots.

The robot, which is has been developed by researchers from Harvard's School for Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, is made of a "composite" silicone rubber made from stiff rubber impregnated with hollow glass microspheres to reduce the robot's weight, while its bottom was made from Kevlar fabric to ensure it was tough and lightweight.

The study was published in Soft Robotics.