In the ever evolving world of robotics, researchers have taken another cue from nature. Scientists at Harvard have added a layer of skin to their soft robot, threaded with micro channels that they can pump dye through it. The robot can blend in with the color of its surroundings or even the temperature, masking it to thermal sensors.
The robots are constructed using a 3D printer to create the molds used in their manufacture. These molds have networks of microchannels impressed in them. One set of channels carry the air that makes the robot squirm about in a frighteningly lifelike manner and the other carries colored fluid. When the robot walks over a surface, the appropriate pre-selected fluid is pumped in to match the surface and break up the pattern of the robot, making it less visible. The whole process takes less than 30 seconds and the silicone molds make the cost of each soft-bot only about US$100.
But the soft-bots’ camouflage isn’t confined to color. The fluid can be heated or cooled to match whatever surface the robot is walking on, making it all but invisible to infrared detectors. In addition, the robot can aid search and rescue missions by making itself more visible rather than less by filling itself with brightly colored, fluorescent or even bioluminescent fluids.
Needless to say, such abilities makes camouflaged soft-bots very attractive to DARPA, which sees important defense applications for a cheap, soft robot that is resilient, able to squeeze into small spaces and hide like a chameleon. However, it also envisions medical applications for the technology, such as artificial muscles or prosthetics.
Read the full article at Gizmag. Soft robotics is clearly in its infancy, but the things it has already accomplished are quite interesting. What do you see happening next in the field of soft robotics?