Researchers at the Wyss Institute, Harvard SEAS and Boston University have developed a soft material microfabrication process for soft robotics. The process called Microfluid Origami for Reconfigurable Pneumatic/Hydraulic devices, or MORPH, combines soft lithography, laser-micromachining and injection-induced self-folding.
To demonstrate the new technology, researchers created a microscale soft robotic peacock spider, which are known for their vibrant colors. Unlike other soft robots that are limited to one degree of freedom, this robotic spider has 18 degrees of freedom.
The tiny robot — made of 12 layers of elastic silicone — has no rigid parts and movement is made possible with a microfluidics system. Specialty liquids are pumped through thin, hollow tubes to actuate the robot’s legs and change colors. Phase-changing materials — such as a UV-curable resin —can be used to lock the different actuators in a deformed position.
Researchers say the new technology could be used to design soft robotic devices with applications in surgery, micro-manipulation and wearable devices.