When is a robot not a robot?
It sounds like a question straight from the Mad Hatter, but soft robotics isn’t a “through the looking glass” fantasy. Take away all the things you typically associate with a robot — the gears, the hardware, the metal shell, the electronics — and what do you get?
Still a robot.
Soft Robots for Hard Problems By Neil Savage
Majidi says the field of soft robotics is still fairly new and that researchers need to find alternatives to air pumps as a way to control the devices. The robots will also need ways to sense their own position. For that he’s exploring the use of microfluidics, specifically liquid-filled microchannels inside a film of rubber. Something as simple as saltwater would render the channel conductive so that the device would become electronic. But there are other fluids that could work, such as Galinstan—an alloy of gallium, indium, and tin that’s liquid at room temperature and a million times as conductive as saline, making it comparable to copper wire.
Because bending or stretching such a circuit changes the shape of the microfluidic channel, it also changes the circuit’s conductivity and thus alters an electrical signal passing through it. “You get something that functions like a stretchable circuit,” Majidi says. Such a device could act as a sensor that measures strain, pressure, or curvature. It could even be used as a stretchable antenna, as was recently demonstrated by a team led by Michael Dickey at North Carolina State University.
Don’t believe something made of air and silicon can be effective? Take a look at this video:
Soft robotics is new, what but applications can you envision for it?
Read the full article at IEEE Spectrum.