Developers from Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have produced the first untethered soft robot — a quadruped that can not only stand up and walk away from its designers, but walk through snow, fire and even walk away after being run over by a car.
In the video "Untethered soft robot" posted on the Harvard University's official YouTube channel, Mike Tolley, Research Associate at the Harvard Micro Robotics Laboratory, explains the working of the determined little robot in detail and how the technology behind it would be beneficial as a search and rescue tool following disasters in the near future.
"We're looking at the world's first untethered soft robot that is capable of moving around without any rigid structural components," he says. The idea behind the soft robot was provided by the millions of organisms in nature that move around successfully, despite being either completely soft or at least partially soft.
The engineers at Harvard wanted to challenge the notion that a robot is a metal hunk and demonstrate something that can move along on its own with a soft body, Tolley explains.
The soft robot is very naturally robust to many specific challenges that an average robot may face. Their silicon body allows them to charter into dangerous territories like snow storms or even burning and collapsed buildings. "These types of robots are really good at dealing with chemical contamination, flames..all sorts of conditions you wouldn't want to send a human in for," says Tolley.
According to "A Resilient, Untethered Soft Robot", a paper published on the 17 September issue of Soft Robotics journal, by Michael Tolley, Robert Shepherd, Bobak Mosadegh, Kevin Galloway, Michael Wehner, Michael Karpelson, Robert Wood, and George Whitesides, "The soft robot is safe to interact with during operation, and its silicone body is innately resilient to a variety of adverse environmental conditions including snow, puddles of water, direct (albeit limited) exposure to flames, and the crushing force of being run over by an automobile."
In the supplimentary Video 1, posted along with "A Resilient, Untethered Soft Robot", the team demonstrates the operation of the robot in four cases of extreme conditions: in snow, fire, water, and subjected to extreme crushing force.
Tolley speaks of the crucial role of robots during the disaster in Fukushima, Japan, where they ventured in to the disaster zones, so that humans could be excused from exposing themselves to hazardous conditions and says that he would "like to see soft robotic systems like these that are perhaps little more optimised be able to do things like search and rescue."
Check the video below: