Robots With Biological Softness

"Phase-changing material built from wax and foam, and capable of switching between hard and soft states"


Mon, Aug 11th, 2014 12:00 by capnasty NEWS

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.



You may also be interested in:

Robotic Waiters Controlled by Paralysed People
"Automation will disrupt millions of Canadian jobs, not far in the future, but in the next dozen years."
Brain of Earthworm Recreated in Software and Embedded in a LEGO Robot
Robot That Wins at Rock, Paper, Scissors All the Time
"Gathering human perspective on moral decision made by machine intelligence."