Harvard Develops Soft-Bodied, Squid-Inspired Robot

Tuesday, November 29th 2011. | Science News

There’s a new star out of Harvard University, and this one isn’t human: Instead, it’s a soft-bodied, squid-inspired pneumatic robot, which can perform a variety of slithering-like movements to get around and underneath obstacles, depending the order in which its four “arms” are inflated, according to a paper published recently in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


“The squid is our hero, squids do incredible things,” said renowned Harvard scientist George Whitesides, whose laboratory produced the “multigait soft robot,” according to New Scientist.

The blog notes that the squid’s tentacle-powered propulsion served as the model for the robot’s own motion. Watch the robot in action via this video from IEEE Spectrum.

The 5-inch long robot is the just latest soft-bodied, inflatable robot out of Harvard’s Whitesides Research Group, which also developed a soft robotic gripper capable of picking up delicate objects, including an egg, without breaking them.

Although the latest creation doesn’t have the same gripping ability, it is made of similarly durable, cheap plastic elastomers — compounds that can be stretched far beyond their original shape without damage — and can squeeze into a two centimeter-wide gap, offering a variety of potential uses, such as reconnaissance and remote access in difficult-to-reach spots, including disaster and war zones.

Little wonder the robot was financed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), as IEEE Spectrum notes.

That said, the paper describing the robot’s functionality notes that its soft shell does leave it more vulnerable than its more familiar, hard-bodied counterparts to puncture wounds.

Still, the paper notes that the robot proves a humble, if meaningful principle: “This demonstration illustrates an advantage of soft robotics: They are systems in which simple types of actuation produce complex motion.”

Indeed, inflatable, pneumatic robotics demonstrations have become wildly popular on the Web. Just last week, a prototype inflatable robotic arm showcased by San Francisco-based companyOtherlab went viral.

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