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Want to build a robot? Harvard gives you the Soft Robotics Toolkit

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The Soft Robotics Toolkit, a joint project between Harvard University and Trinity College in Dublin, has been created to address the growing interest in building DIY robots.

Rather than a one-stop shop where you can purchase robotics parts, the site is a resource with tutorials, models and other multimedia material that enthusiasts and newbie robot makers can use for their own soft robots projects.

Soft robotics is a field of robotics inspired by bio-design, particularly the movements of animals such as octopus and starfish. Roboteers take their cue from nature and apply the idea to their engineered designs to create robots that use flexible materials.

Some applications of soft robotics include robots that assist in minimally invasive surgery and locomotion for disabled people.

The official website contains a wealth of resources for budding and professional robotics designers, planners, and builders to take advantage of:

  • CAD files for 3D prints to make silicone molds for parts
  • Tutorials to make your own 3D printable builds
  • Case studies and photos of other people's designs
  • Step-by-step instructions complete with photos and videos to follow along
  • Links to suggested suppliers
  • Open-source control board designs that soft robotic projects and applications can use interchangeably as-is, or with modifications for more specific uses.

The online shared resource is perfect for students who may be inspired by the works of others, and for designers to help each other solve problems and build upon the works of their peers.

Dónal Holland, a visiting lecturer at Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences from Trinity Dublin, said that the online resource is a valuable tool for collaboration and knowledge-sharing.

"One thing we've seen in design courses is that students greatly benefit from access to more experienced peers -- say, postdocs in a research lab -- who can guide them through their work," he said.

Most of the resources that were initially made available on the site were developed by Robert J. Wood and George M. Whitesides, whose lab work helped to make Harvard the leader in soft robotics research and development.

The Soft Robotics Toolkit will provide an avenue for students, designers and researchers to build an online community of open-source sharing and collaborative content.

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