Did You See This?

Soft Robot

Harvard develops a working prototype of a robotic breakthrough.

The video above from Harvard University’s Wyss Institute introduces the remarkable Octobot. And it’s as adorable as it is squishy. Which is to say, very. But it’s the squishiness that makes Octobot so remarkable.

The 2.5-inch Octobot has no rigid parts whatsoever. It’s based on nature’s amazing octopus—hence the eight arms—and its parts are 3-D–printed, molded, and created using soft lithography.

Chemical reactions turn the hydrogen peroxide running through Octobot’s “veins” into gas that then expands into its appendages, inflating them, and ultimately making the autonomous bot move. The chemical reactions are controlled by a microfluidic microcircuit with tiny components that have been etched into the robot’s “brain.”

“One longstanding vision for the field of soft robotics has been to create robots that are entirely soft, but the struggle has always been in replacing rigid components like batteries and electronic controls with analogous soft systems and then putting it all together,” said Robert Wood—who co-developed Octobot with Jennifer A. Lewis—speaking to the Harvard Gazette. Octobot is proof that it can be done—and somewhat easily, too, using readily available fabrication methods.