Harvard researchers have developed the first autonomous soft-bodied robot. The so-called octobot runs on hydrogen peroxide and could revolutionize the field of robotics.
As its name implies, the octobot looks like an octopus. Its design was inspired by the marine animal, which despite having no skeleton is powerful enough to break reinforced acrylic glasses using its muscular tentacles.
It is not the first time that engineers developed a robot that mimics the movement of marine animals but what makes the octobot different is that unlike other machines that are tethered to a power source, it is cordless and can move freely.
The robot does not also rely on batteries, wires or circuit boards since it has no rigid parts in its body. Instead, it uses liquid hydrogen peroxide as fuel. When hydrogen peroxide reacts with a platinum catalyst in the robotic cephalopod's core, it produces a gas that inflates the robot's limbs allowing it to wriggle, lift and lower its arms.
The fleshy robot, which was described in the journal Nature on Aug. 25, could pave way for functional robots that do not need hard skeletons and rigid moving parts to move and work.
Researchers said that soft robotics may alter the course on how humans interact with machines but there has been difficulty in building entirely soft robots because of the challenge involved in replacing rigid components such as electronic controls and batteries.
"Fuel sources for soft robots have always relied on some type of rigid components," said study researcher Michael Wehner. "The wonderful thing about hydrogen peroxide is that a simple reaction between the chemical and a catalyst — in this case platinum — allows us to replace rigid power sources."
The octobot currently has limited function and that is to expand and contract its tentacles but given its soft body and ability to function autonomously, the researchers said that its development could lead to more sophisticated soft robots that can easily adapt to changing environments.
The soft exterior of such robots can make them safer for everyday use. Deploying soft-bodied robots to homes, for instances, would be more ideal than deploying machines with more rigid parts. The researchers hope to also develop an octobot that can swim, crawl and interact with the environment.
"Our integrated design and rapid fabrication approach enables the programmable assembly of multiple materials within this architecture, laying the foundation for completely soft, autonomous robots," the researchers wrote in their study.