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Soft-Robotics: The robots of the future won't look anything like the Terminator

Soft-Robotics: The robots of the future won't look anything like the Terminator | STEAM | Scoop.it

The field of soft robotics has attracted a rush of attention in the last year. Down the road at Harvard, multiple groups are working on soft robotic hands, jumping legs, exosuits, and quadrupeds that can do the limbo. At Worcester Polytechnic Institute's Soft Robotics Lab, researchers are building a snake. In San Francisco, a startup called Otherlab is buildinginflatable robots that can shake hands, walk, and carry riders. In Italy, a group of researchers built a robotic tentacle modeled after an octopus.

 

Before the 1970s, car companies made cars safer by making them larger and heavier. Then along came the airbag: a lightweight safety device that folded up invisibly into the vehicle until it sensed a crash. Similar revolutions took place with body armor, bridges, and contact lenses, and these researchers believe something similar is happening with robots.

 

"It’s not a part of conventional robotics technologies," says Fumiya Iida, a professor of bio-inspired robotics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology-Zurich and a member of the IEEE committee on soft robotics. "They have to think completely differently, use different materials, different energy sources. Definitely this is the way we should go in the long run." One of the most impressive rigid robots in the world right now is Boston Dynamics’ 300-pound humanoid Atlas. If Atlas wants to pick up a ball, it needs to sense and compute the precise distance between its digits and the ball and figure out exactly where to place its hand and how much pressure to apply.


Robots like Atlas "are doing a lot of thinking," says Barry Trimmer, PhD, a professor at Tufts and the editor of a new journal, Soft Robotics, which launched last month. "There’s a lot of hesitancy. ‘Where do I put my foot next?’ Animals just don't do that. We need to get away from the idea that you have to control every variable."

 

By contrast, Harvard’s starfish-shaped soft gripper only needs to be told to inflate. As it’s pumped full of air, it conforms to the shape of an object until its "fingers" have enough pressure to lift it. Another example would be a human picking up a glass of water. We don’t have to compute the exact size and shape of the glass with our brains; our hand adapts to the object. Similarly, Bubbles doesn’t calculate the full length of its movement.


There are technological challenges as well. In addition to air and fluid pressure actuators, soft roboticists are experimenting with dielectric elastomers, elastic materials that expand and contract in response to electric voltage; shape-memory alloys, metal alloys that can be programmed to change shape at certain temperatures; and springs that respond to light. These approaches are still rudimentary, as are the control systems that operate the robots. In the case of many of Harvard’s soft robots, it’s simply a syringe of air attached to a tube.


The field is so new, however, that no possibilities have yet been ruled out. Soft robotics technologies could theoretically be used in a wearable pair of human wings.More practically, soft robots could easily pack eggs or pick fruit — traditional hard robots, equipped with superhuman grips, are more likely to break yolks and inadvertently make applesauce. A mass of wormlike "meshworm" robots could be filled with water and dropped over a disaster area, where they would crawl to survivors. A soft robotic sleeve could be worn to eliminate tremors or supplement strength lost with age. Soft robots could be used in space exploration, where weight is hugely important; in prosthetics, where they would provide comfort and lifelikeness; in the home, where they can help out around the house without trampling the dog; and in surgical robots, where operators have inspired a few lawsuits after puncturing patients’ insides.

 



Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
Anne Pascucci, MPA, CRA's insight:

Very cool!

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Rudolf Kabutz's curator insight, July 3, 2014 6:38 AM

Do robots have to be hard and metallic? Soft spongy robots could have many advantages.

Shaeid Chodhhury's comment, April 13, 4:14 AM
I read a best review about best case trimmer http://toptechreview.tech/best-case-trimmer/
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Plane sailing: engineering an assault on the America’s Cup

Plane sailing: engineering an assault on the America’s Cup | STEAM | Scoop.it
A crack technical team led by a veteran of Formula One is helping Olympic sailing legend Ben Ainslie mount a challenge for sport’s oldest trophy.
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Rolls-Royce boss to give half his £1.7m ARM share windfall to charity

Rolls-Royce boss to give half his £1.7m ARM share windfall to charity | STEAM | Scoop.it
Rolls-Royce chief executive Warren East will give to charity half of the £
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It’s Time for Fancy Apartments to Offer Balconies for Drone Landings

It’s Time for Fancy Apartments to Offer Balconies for Drone Landings | STEAM | Scoop.it
Drones are coming, and they're going to change a lot of things about how we shape our lives. So why shouldn't we change how we shape our buildings?
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GKN exec Nigel Stein: ‘Winning or losing, there’s no such thing as standing still’

GKN exec Nigel Stein: ‘Winning or losing, there’s no such thing as standing still’ | STEAM | Scoop.it
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Hackers Don’t Have to Be Human Anymore. This Bot Battle Proves It

Hackers Don’t Have to Be Human Anymore. This Bot Battle Proves It | STEAM | Scoop.it
Now it's bot against bot.
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This week’s poll: mining in space

This week’s poll: mining in space | STEAM | Scoop.it
Will space mining ever be a practical proposition? NASA’s announcement of progress on its Asteroid Redirect Mission raises a possibility long mentioned in fiction: exploiting other celestial bodies for their mineral resources.
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The Despair of Poor White Americans

The Despair of Poor White Americans | STEAM | Scoop.it
Poor white Americans’ current crisis shouldn’t have caught the rest of the country as off guard as it has.
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We want you! Organizations see huge hole in cybersecurity staffing needs

We want you! Organizations see huge hole in cybersecurity staffing needs | STEAM | Scoop.it
Finding, hiring and retaining properly trained cybersecurity personnel is proving to be a major chore for corporations worldwide with the general lack of staffers proving detrimental to their organizations cyber safety.
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Instead of asking, “are robots becoming more human?” we need to ask “are humans becoming more robotic?”

Instead of asking, “are robots becoming more human?” we need to ask “are humans becoming more robotic?” | STEAM | Scoop.it
For more than 65 years, computer scientists have studied whether robots' behavior could become indistinguishable from human intelligence. But while we’ve focused on machines, have we ignored changes to our own capabilities?
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3-D Printing a Better Prosthetic

3-D Printing a Better Prosthetic | STEAM | Scoop.it
Algorithms can be used to design cheap, perfect-fitting limbs, orthodontics, and other accessories.
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What kind of person pays thousands of dollars for the right to own a piece of space history?
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Clever AI Turns a World of Lasers Into Maps for Self-Driving Cars

Clever AI Turns a World of Lasers Into Maps for Self-Driving Cars | STEAM | Scoop.it
With a fresh pile of cash, startup Civil Maps is racing Google, Here, and others to teach self-driving cars to see and understand their world.
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This blind Apple engineer is transforming the tech world at only 22

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Jordyn Carter is helping Apple design technology with the blind community in mind.
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FTSE 100 surges 2.2pc and pound climbs as hopes of Fed rate hike fade after tepid US jobs data

FTSE 100 surges 2.2pc and pound climbs as hopes of Fed rate hike fade after tepid US jobs data | STEAM | Scoop.it
The FTSE 100 charged to a two-week high, surging 148.
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Schools Aren't Teaching Students What They Need to Know

Schools Aren't Teaching Students What They Need to Know | STEAM | Scoop.it
Education experts weigh in on the content areas children should have mastery over by the time they graduate.
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The energy to succeed

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The founding of The Engineer coincided with the first stirrings of the energy sector, where technology, business, politics and powerful personalities combined to an extent seen in few other industries.
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Why Do So Many Women Who Study Engineering Leave the Field?

Why Do So Many Women Who Study Engineering Leave the Field? | STEAM | Scoop.it
Research shows that class projects and internships reinforce a masculine culture.
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The WIRED 100

The WIRED 100 | STEAM | Scoop.it
We list the people across the world shaping our culture, technology, consumer behaviour and scientific discovery
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Downtown Manhattan Is the New Frontier of the Car-Free City

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How a brief experiment in car-free living could change the city for the better and for good.
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Big Data, Cloud Demand Drive IT Job Growth - InformationWeek

Big Data, Cloud Demand Drive IT Job Growth - InformationWeek | STEAM | Scoop.it
IT job numbers grew in July, but not as fast as they did during the rest of 2016. Yet big data and cloud trends will continue to drive job growth going forward, according to CompTIA researchers.
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A Tesla Co-Founder Is Making Electric Garbage Trucks With Jet Tech, and Why Not

A Tesla Co-Founder Is Making Electric Garbage Trucks With Jet Tech, and Why Not | STEAM | Scoop.it
Ian Wright is using turbine engines to keep electric garbage trucks on the road.
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Breakthrough solar cell captures carbon dioxide and sunlight, produces burnable fuel

Breakthrough solar cell captures carbon dioxide and sunlight, produces burnable fuel | STEAM | Scoop.it
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have engineered a potentially game-changing solar cell that cheaply and efficiently converts atmospheric carbon dioxide directly into usable hydrocarbon fuel, using onl...
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Baby diapers inspired this new way to study the brain

Baby diapers inspired this new way to study the brain | STEAM | Scoop.it
Neuroengineer Ed Boyden wants to know how the tiny biomolecules in our brains generate emotions, thoughts and feelings -- and he wants to find the molecular changes that lead to disorders like epilepsy and Alzheimer's.
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Light-activated heart cells help guide robotic stingray

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Layers of silicone, gold and genetically engineered rat heart cells make up the body of a new stingray robot that can swim in response to light.
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What ISIS Really Wants

What ISIS Really Wants | STEAM | Scoop.it
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
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