New Soft Robotics Manufacturing Techniques Yield Tiny Robot Spider

Most of the cutting-edge research in robotics today is focused in two areas: creating smarter robots, and creating smaller robots. Huge…

Cameron Coward
4 years agoRobotics

Most of the cutting-edge research in robotics today is focused in two areas: creating smarter robots, and creating smaller robots. Huge leaps in artificial intelligence and machine learning are making it possible to create truly sophisticated autonomous robots. But, the primary factor holding back tiny robots is the limitations of micro-scale fabrication. Now, a new set of fabrication techniques is bringing us one step closer to capable robots at the millimeter scale.

This isn’t a completely new invention, but rather a collection of fabrication methods that have been combined to yield something new. It’s a joint development between researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and Boston University. Their MORPH (Microfluidic Origami for Reconfigurable Pneumatic/Hydrolic devices) concept incorporates soft silicone lithography, laser micromachining, and microfluidic actuation to build soft robots.

To demonstrate MORPH, they constructed a small robot that was modeled after an Australian peacock spider. The structure of the robot is elastic silicone, which remains flexible in its neutral state. Then, fluid is pumped through microscopic channels and into pockets in order to actuate nine individual joints in the legs, body, and jaws. The joints will remain rigid until the fluid pressure is released. The robot spider itself is roughly the size of a penny, but external pumps are required to actuate the joints. This specific robot is just a proof of concept, but the same technology could be used to build robots that would be useful in small scale operations, such as surgery.

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