From Harvard: “The octobot is powered by a chemical reaction and controlled with a soft logic board. A reaction inside the bot transforms a small amount of liquid fuel (hydrogen peroxide) into a large amount of gas, which flows into the octobot’s arms and inflates them like a balloon. A microfluidic logic circuit, a soft analog of a simple electronic oscillator, controls when hydrogen peroxide decomposes to gas in the octobot.”
Imagine a robot. I’m guessing, after decades of droids and cylons and terminators, that the machine pictured was something metal, rigid, and human-shaped. It’s the popular vision of robots, but clunky, rigid, metal bodies can only do so much. Soft robots is the field of squishier machines, and today a team of Harvard University researchers announced its latest floppy creation: an autonomous, 3D printed octopus-shaped robot nicknamed “octobot.”
Harvard’s octobot is pneumatic-based, i.e., it is powered by gas under pressure. A reaction inside the bot transforms a small amount of liquid fuel (hydrogen peroxide) into a large amount of gas, which flows into the octobot’s arms and inflates them like a balloon. “Fuel sources for soft robots have always relied on some type of rigid components,” said Michael Wehner, a postdoctoral fellow in the Wood lab and co-first author of the paper. “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 fuel, circuits, and motors are all printed within the octobot’s body. Right now, the autonomy consists of the machine deciding when to flex its little robot limbs. Future versions of the octobot man crawl, walk, and otherwise deliberately flop about like other soft robots, but for now, this little machine is a flailing start of an idea. An embryonic creation, it is the goopy seed of future designs, ones that will not only be autonomous, but will have something they can do with that autonomy.
Watch a video about it below: