A New Type of Robot Can Turn Soft from Rigid

A New Type of Robot Can Turn Soft from Rigid


A team of scientists from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have demonstrated how a structure having many layers can enable robots to copy the kinematics of an octopus which can create and eliminate joints on command. The structure created by them can enable the robots to swiftly switch their stiffness, dynamics, and damping.

The findings of the scientists have been published in two papers in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters and Advanced Functional Materials. The lead author feels that their research can serve to reduce the gulf between traditional rigid robotics and soft robotics. He feels that the new age technology can spawn a new generation of structures and machines which cannot be strictly labeled as rigid or soft.

New Structure Consists of Many Layers

The new structure built by the scientists is uncomplicated and consists of many layers of flexible materials wrapped in an envelope made of plastic and connected to a vacuum source. Absence of vacuum allows the structure to act just the way one would want, twisting, bending, and flopping sans any shape. However, once a vacuum is placed, stiffness follows so that it can hold arbitrary shapes and can be shaped into new forms.

A process named laminar jamming caused such a transition. The application generates friction that strongly couples a clutch of materials that are flexible. The forces of friction created by the pressure behave like a glue.