Remember the tiny evil robot called Scalpel in Transformers 2? The one that was like a little Swiss army knife capable of disassembling and fixing anything? Well, someone invented a much more benevolent version of Scalpel.
A tiny, critter-like soft robot has been created to sort your Tupperware, clean windows and even get you a cocktail at the end of the day. The new bio-inspired robot is made with soft muscle-like material and is powered by a vacuum. What’s especially unique about this technology is that it can be snapped together like Lego dependent on the task.
"Everyone has a Swiss army knife somewhere; we want this to be the robot equivalent, it could be used as an extra hand when trying to hammer a nail into a wall, or left alone to organize your fridge. You can keep this in your toolbox, ready to help automate simple tasks around the home," Jamie Paik at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne told New Scientist.
How does it work exactly? The bot is made of three pneumatic pumps that expand and collapse dependent on its direction of movement. Each pump or section can be stacked, one on top the other and share the same power system.
The vacuum is beneficial in making them work more like human muscles than any other soft robot which usually runs on pressurized air. The opposite of human muscles which contract, rather than expand.
Paik’s animated bot can both grip and suction itself to smooth surfaces; it also comes with a range of accessories like a robotic arm for grabbing and suction cups for attaching itself to walls. Finding that top window hard to reach? Just add more sections for length. If you want to scare the bejesus out of your friends, the bot can also wriggle on the ground like a snake or caterpillar.
Right now this Swiss army knife of robots is still in the early stages of development and can only work once tethered to a vacuum pump, but it’s the start of what could be the cutest most productive member of your household.
“Bringing robots into our lives does not mean that we have to be friends with the terminator. It’s about making things better,” says Paik.
What’s the difference between soft robots and rigid robots?
Soft robots are a subfield of robotics which primarily builds robots out of pliable, compliant material mimicking those found in living organisms. Most soft robots resemble invertebrates like worms or octopuses. The technology is usually implemented in fields such as medicine, specifically invasive surgery or manufacturing. Soft robots make interactions with humans much safer, a collision with a rigid robot leads to much more severe injury.
Biorobtics is a subsection of this particular field of soft robotics where animal motion copied in the bot. Researchers at Stanford University built a gecko-like robot, called Stickybot that can crawl on and stick to walls. Unfortunately, it can’t sell you insurance.