Harvard University researchers just created the most adorable octopus robot and it’s made completely out of soft parts.
The ‘octobot’ can’t do too much at this point. Mostly it just passes gas and wiggles its little tentacles up and down while it sits in place. But what’s impressive about the palm-sized tyke is it doesn’t need any batteries or tethers made of hard materials to run – something never achieved before. Instead, it provides its own energy by pushing gas through chambers in its legs. The entire robot is 3D printed out of silicone gel of varying stiffness.
“One long-standing vision for the field of soft robotics has been to create robots that are entirely soft, but the struggle has always been in replacing rigid components like batteries and electronic controls with analogous soft systems and then putting it all together,” said Robert Wood, one of the authors of the study. “This research demonstrates that we can easily manufacture the key components of a simple, entirely soft robot, which lays the foundation for more complex designs.”
Researchers hope to one day use soft robots like these to perform specialized tasks where a traditional rigid robot might fail. In the future, we could see soft robots performing tasks related to complicated surgeries or squeezing into tight spaces in search-and-rescue missions. And seeing as how us humans ourselves are so squishy, putting a soft robot near us sounds like a pretty good idea.
In case you were curious why the researchers chose to shape octobot like an octopus in the first place, it’s not because there was any functional benefit in going with the intelligent ocean dweller. It’s more of an homage to the soft-bodied animal which has for a long time inspired the field of soft robotics in an abstract way.
“We think the octopus just looks cool,” the study’s lead author Michael Wehner told the Verge. “We thought a pretty cool looking octopus might help get people on our side – convert people to soft robotics.”
Indeed, the octobot has an endearing cuteness to it that could make the staunchest anti-roboticist swoon. Here’s to one delightfully squishy proof of concept for soft robotics.