When you hear the word robotics what do you think of? Action movies or a manufacturing plant may come to mind, but we’re here to tell you about a relatively new area of robotics you may have never heard of before: soft robotics. Kwang Kim of the University of Nevada and his National Science Foundation funded team are “Looking into the development of a powerful, flexible, material for the creation of artificial muscles,” according to Medical Plastics News.
The benefits of soft robotics are quite impressive, and include being more maneuverable and having better interaction with humans than other, conventional robotics. One challenge for researchers is finding the best material to use for soft robotics. Kim’s team is currently using an ionic polymer-metal composite. This type of polymer is electroactive which means it can sense motion, making it ideal for soft robotics. With this research comes the possibility of a future where robots could squish, stretch and squeeze, and could improve the quality of life for disabled or elderly individuals.
Kim and his team aren’t the only ones experimenting with soft robotics. A group of Italian researchers recently unveiled the octo-bot, inspired by…you guessed it – the octopus. Octo-bot can swim, glide along the seabed with ease, and has eight tentacles that can grasp objects. The team used shape-memory alloys (SMAs) to create artificial muscles for the octo-bot. According to IEEE Spectrum, “When heated, SMAs deform to a predefined shape, which they “remember.”’ The team “fashioned SMA wires into springs and ran electric current through them to heat them, causing the spring to scrunch up in a way that imitates muscular contractions.”
You may be asking yourself the purpose of something like the octo-bot. One possibility is a future where an octo-bot could be sent down to the seabed to fix tidal turbines, rather than sending a human down to perform repairs. However, for now octo-bot will be placed in a tank at the Livorno Italy Aquarium right next to another, real octopus. Who knows, maybe they will become octo-friends (sorry, we had to.)
So next time you think of the word robotics remember it spans far beyond action movies like Transformers (which we have to admit is a pretty good movie). And while we are sure the future of robots does include a lot more cool movies, it also includes a whole new world of bettering the lives of people, which is pretty amazing in and of itself.