MM Blog: Building Softer, Squishier Robots

A look at a new breed of robot that can stretch to accommodate diverse new tasks.

When most people think of robots, they probably visualize the massive arms already used in factories around the world or, more likely, metallic bipeds that closely resemble humans. In the near future, however, they could picture an octopus or caterpillar instead.

This spring, a European research consortium will host ten teams competing in the first global soft-robotics challenge in Italy. Scientists are increasingly equipping robots with structures made of softer materials, which can be programmed to safely stretch, squeeze or grab objects much more easily than their rigid metal predecessors.

Those robots, with advances in polymers and sensors, could eventually handle unpredictable situations and complement humans more effectively. The softer, more flexible materials would have obvious implications for health care and emergency response, but stretchy robotic limbs could also allow industrial robots to grab new objects without additional programming.


In what other ways could soft robotics benefit manufacturing? Could the robotic revolution underway in many plants soon become outdated?

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