Lead researchers Anette Hosoi and Nadia Cheng from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, showcase a new phase-changing material that can switch between hard and soft states. The material can be used to build robots that could squeeze through tight spots or become rigid to "exert a reasonable amount of force on its surroundings."
[...] if a robot is going to perform meaningful tasks, it needs to be able to exert a reasonable amount of force on its surroundings, she says. “You can’t just create a bowl of Jell-O, because if the Jell-O has to manipulate an object, it would simply deform without applying significant pressure to the thing it was trying to move.”
What’s more, controlling a very soft structure is extremely difficult: It is much harder to predict how the material will move, and what shapes it will form, than it is with a rigid robot.
So the researchers decided that the only way to build a deformable robot would be to develop a material that can switch between a soft and hard state, Hosoi says. “If you’re trying to squeeze under a door, for example, you should opt for a soft state, but if you want to pick up a hammer or open a window, you need at least part of the machine to be rigid,” she says.
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