Although it may superficially resemble a small and adorable toy, the Octobot, as named by its inventors at Harvard, is a major break through in soft robotics. Most significantly, it is the first completely soft robot, and it is capable of moving on its own. The Octobot contains no hard materials whatsoever with ¾ of the robot not even containing chips or batteries.
First, a microfluidic chip is placed into a custom octopus mold, which is then filled with a silicone mixture. Using a 3D printer, the researchers then inject ink in the shape of the path along which gas will be able to flow. After baking the octopus for four days, one of the two inks will evaporate and leave behind a hollow tunnel in its place.
For the movement component, highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide is pumped into the reservoir within the main part of the Octobot’s body. Pressure then causes it to travel through the hollow inside. It then comes into contact with lines of platinum that it chemically reacts with, producing a gas. Subsequently, this gas flows through the initial microfluidic chip, which controls where which of the tentacles it is released into. The inflation of the tentacles results in the little octopus wriggling and moving.
The creation of the Octobot shows that soft robots can be made. In the near future, technology will allow for added advanced programming and sensory abilities within these creations.
Especially in the medical field, soft robots will be substantially superior to rigid ones. The soft robots’ flexibility and more cushioned parts will allow them to better handle delicate tissues and organs. In addition they would cost far less than their solid, immovable counterparts as 3D printing makes the process surprisingly simple.