Behold the Octobot! This robot is the first of its kind fully made of soft materials and aimed to pave the way towards a more safely interaction with humans. Developed through a combination of 3D printing, molding and soft lithography, the robot operates without being tethered to a power source.
The palm-sized Octobot was introduced in a paper written by a team of researchers at Harvard University, which developed the robot. In the work it is described how a chemical reaction inside the Octobot converts a small amount of hydrogen peroxide into gas, which streams through the robot’s “tentacles”, making them move. Although the robot cannot walk or swim, the creation is a mere proof of concept. "We hope that our approach for creating autonomous soft robots inspires roboticists, material scientists and researchers focused on advanced manufacturing" said Ryan Truby, graduate student in the Lewis lab and co-first author of the paper.
Traditionally, we think of robots as rigid entities, but this significant milestone appears to bring about new understandings hereof. Jennifer A. Lewis, professor at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, who led the research commented, "The octobot is a simple embodiment designed to demonstrate our integrated design and additive fabrication strategy for embedding autonomous functionality".
Soft robotics in the near future could be used for medical care, like surgery, or it could be helpful to search-and-rescue operations, as it can squeeze through spaces where no human can go. Octobot might not be able to demonstrate the pro-acrobat movements of a regular octopus yet, but we might just be at the verge of the technology’s breakthrough into the work industry.