The robots may navigate better because 3-D printing allows for a quick combination of multiple materials.
Frogs can jump without harm because they are a combination of hard bones and soft tissues. Robots—not so much. Until this one hopped off the 3-D printer.
This is Scientific American’s 60-Second Science. I’m Maria Temming. Got a minute?
Using a multimaterial 3-D printer, a group of scientists led by Robert Wood at Harvard University created a froglike robot from both rigid and soft materials. [Nicholas W. Bartlett et al, A 3-D–printed, functionally graded soft robot powered by combustion]
The robot’s body is stiff near the core control center, making it durable enough to be combustion-powered, while the bot’s flexible outer edges help it stick the landing.
Scientists hope that soft robots inspired by flexible animals like snakes and sea creatures will be more resilient than “traditional” metal robots. But soft robots are hard to build because hard and soft parts need to be molded separately and then assembled. The 3-D printing technique Wood’s team used gets around the need for manual assembly, and could pave the way for a new generation of bouncing, controllable robots.
Since these bots have squishy parts, they can navigate terrain hard robots can’t. They might be safer for close contact with people and could even be used to delicately manipulate organs in surgery—though, of course, Wood says, these tasks would require the development of robots not powered by combustion.
Thanks for the minute. For Scientific American’s 60-Second Science, I’m Maria Temming.
—Maria Temming, Benjamin Meyers, Eliene Augenbraun
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Producers: Benjamin Meyers, Eliene Augenbraun
Writer and Narrator: Maria Temming
Audio Editor and Engineer: Steve Mirsky
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Special Thanks: Nicholas W. Bartlett, Harvard University
Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Photo courtesy of Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences