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Cutting the Cord on Soft Robots

By Harvard Gazette

September 17, 2014

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Researchers at Harvard University's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have developed an untethered soft robot. The team says it has created a four-legged robot that can stand up and walk away from its designers.

Wyss Institute's Michael Tolley says the robot "is very inspired by nature, and we wanted to demonstrate that soft materials can also be the basis for robots."

The system designed by Tolley and colleagues measures more than a half-meter in length and can carry as much as 7.5 pounds on its back. To give the robot such strength, the air pressure needed to operate the machine had to be increased to 16 pounds per square inch (psi), more than double the 7 psi commonly used by earlier robot designs. The team used a composite silicone material made from stiff rubber implanted with hollow glass microspheres to reduce the robot's weight. Tolley says Kevlar fabric was used ensure it was tough yet lightweight to withstand various harsh conditions.

The researchers cite such hurdles as a need to increase the speed of the robots and outfit them with sensors, but Tolley says the team's achievement can eventually help transform what robots look like and how they might be used.

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