Scientists have recently developed a robot with a 3D printed body that has a rigid core and a soft exterior which is capable of jumping over 30 times without being powered from the outside. The researchers said that the robot gets its power from a mix of oxygen and butane.
Michael Tolley which is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California – San Diego said that they believe that putting together both rigid and soft materials they will be capable of creating a new generation of agile and fast robots that are more a lot more adaptable and robust than the ones before them and which can safely work together with humans. Tolley also said that the idea of combining these two types of materials came right from nature. For instance, some mussels have feet that begin as soft and become rigid where they contact rocks.
The work took place at the Wyss Institute at Harvard and Nicholas Bartlett and Michael Tolley supervised the entire project. They said that complexity comes at a very low cost in nature and by using new technologies, such as 3D printing, they are trying to translate this to robotics as well.
Tolley said that soft robots are usually slow, particularly when completing tasks without being connected to any power sources and electronics. The researchers hope that they will be able to integrate rigid components in soft robots a lot better, which will allow those robots to move a lot faster without endangering any humans working alongside them.
The rigid layers on the robot are better for protecting the brain and power source while the soft parts make the machine a lot less vulnerable to any damage when landing from jumps. The new robot is constructed out of two hemispheres. The upper one is similar to half of a shell and it is 3D printed with nine different layers with various levels of stiffness, which creates a structure that is flexible similar to rubber on the exterior and very rigid near the core of the robot.
The scientists tried numerous design versions and came to the conclusion that a top that is completely rigid would allow the robot to jump higher. However, a flexible top was capable of surviving impacts, so the researchers decided to stick to the flexible design.
The half of the robot at the bottom is more flexible and also includes a chamber where butane and oxygen are being pushed in before the robot makes the jump. After ignition of the two gases, the half behaves pretty much like a ball that inflates instantaneously and propels the robot into the air. This makes it look like the 3D printed soft robot jumps like humans.
Image Source: cdn.rt.com