Although it bears almost no resemblance to what we conventionally think of as a robot, this little guy is the latest development in the growing field of soft robotics.
Dubbed the Glaucus, the robot is inspired by the blue sea slug Glaucus Atlanticus, and is able to walk without any hard moving parts. Instead it contains two hollow interior chambers that “interdigitate” – or interlock like the fingers of clasped hands – with each other.
Two input lines pressurise the chambers individually, which bends the robot’s structure. This in turn produces a walking motion not unlike how a salamander moves.
The Glaucus is designed as a proof-of-concept. Super-Releaser, the company behind the robot, says it is the first demonstration of a method to produce almost any geometry modelled on a computer in this silicone skin.
The robot is made in such a way that producing large numbers would be very simple. It is produced from a 3D printed mould, meaning once the initial mould was created more of the Glaucus could quickly be created.
Super-Releaser believes that the technology behind this robot could have distinct benefits for the medical industry. It has proposed the development of a mouldable orthotic cuff that could be used for stroke rehabilitation or physical therapy.
“When inflated it could provide extra force for reaching and lifting,” the company explained in a video.
It also has tremendous potential in prosthetics, where comfortable fit is vital. The company has suggested that it could use a patient’s scan data to determine how force will be distributed on a leg prosthesis, and create a silicon sleeve that would contain “padding and cushioning for pain points as dictated by that data”.
The exterior of the sleeve could also be given a special surface to enable it to “mechanically lock-in with a prosthetic, providing a solid mechanical bond”.
Super-Releaser, a company based in Brooklyn, New York, in the US, is a collaboration between Matthew Borgatti, a designer and engineer with a background in animatronic puppet development for the SFX industry, and Dr James Bredt, a 3D printing veteran and lecturer at MIT.
Together they have been developing this soft robot technology with a view to creating solutions for the medical device industry.
Unlike some companies, they have also chosen to make the technology open-source: 3D printer files and documentation are freely available online, and Super-Releaser has released a forum for would-be makers to ask questions and share tips.
Images courtesy of Super-Releaser.