New Hybrid Robot Has Soft ‘Skin’ But Hard ‘Guts’

Jul 13, 2015

by Charles Q. Choi

It may seem soft and squishy to the touch, but a new robot is tough on the inside and ready to pounce, researchers say.

The 3D-printed bot has hard insides but a soft exterior, and this blend of materials makes it much better at explosion-powered jumps than droids that are either completely hard or completely soft, according to a new study.

Such leaping robots could one day come in handy in harsh environments too dangerous for humans, particularly because the bots are capable of surviving hard falls and other unforeseen circumstances, scientists added.

“One wild potential application would be in space — on the moon or Mars or other planets,” said study co-lead author Nicholas Bartlett, a roboticist at Harvard University. “These are unpredictable environments, and a soft robot that can bend and adapt to such environments and put up with a lot of punishment could be really useful. You could also think of more practical applications, such as search-and-rescue missions in disaster scenarios such as collapsed buildings, where a soft robot could go where no wheeled robot could navigate.”

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