Soft robotics

Robots and machines without well-defined articulations were somewhat a heresy at the time when I entered graduate school. There were no control systems that could handle something that continuously deformed during normal operation. Since then, many engineers and biologists defined and characterized the problem in many different contexts. During my study of caterpillar locomotion, I started to develop soft robotic caterpillars that acted as test platforms for my hypotheses. Today we have a new field called “Soft Robotics” and I am glad I took part in this interdisciplinary movement.

Caterpillar soft robots

In general, soft bodies are slow and inefficient in force transmission. However, their infinite degrees of freedom allow high motion capability and offer a new way to accomplish mechanical tasks. The exact application of soft robots is still in debate since no soft robotic system has been deployed in real-world applications up to date. On the other hand, very few cutting edge articulated robotic systems have made it to the real-world application either. The current expected use of soft robots are in biological interface (medical devices that have contact with tissues or robots that need to work in close proximity with human). Of course, soft robots should continue to serve as a experimental platform for biologists who study soft-bodied animals and engineers who study large-deformation mechanics.

 

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