From hydrogel to swine intestine: unusual materials in robotics

    Every robot should have a shiny metal ass - film fans know that. But in real robots, the metal is not so much: plastics, composites and silicone, and sometimes completely non-standard substances are adjacent to it.

    The material for any product is chosen according to its future functions. Robotics today come to all areas of human life, so the tasks of robots can be very different, and materials - non-standard. We found examples of robots from unusual materials and tried to understand what drove their developers.

    Fur and knitting: soft companion robots

    Much has been written about pet therapy (she is zootherapy and animal therapy) . Doctors confirm that communication with a pet has a beneficial effect on people with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, depression and neurosis. But not everyone can have a pet: an allergy or a state of health interferes when care for a pet is disturbed.

    Companion robots are a way to solve a problem. They facilitate loneliness and give pleasant tactile sensations; while they do not need to feed and take for a walk.

    One such development is the robot media company Blossom from scientists from Cornell University and the Google ZOO team created in 2017. At the base of this small robot is a soft frame made of silicone and rubber bands; A knitted cover is put on top and wooden ears are attached. Blossom has no face or display, so it expresses emotions only with body and ear movements. The robot is able to watch videos on Youtube along with the host and empathize with what he saw: to dance or sadly lower your ears and head. Now his reactions are based on the captions to the video, but in the future, the developers plan to integrate computer vision and hearing into it so that it recognizes emotions in videos and songs in real time. The eared robot can be not only a partner, but also an assistant in the socialization of children with autism:

    The shell for Blossom is crocheted by hand from natural wool to make it more “cute” and “homemade”. In addition, each owner will be able to customize the robot by linking or stitching new parts.

    The Japanese company Yukai Engineering that same year introduced a robot copied from a pet: Qoobo. He has a round soft body, trimmed with artificial fur, and a moving tail, which, according to the plan of the developers, he expresses emotions. Its main function is anti-stress. Just smooth hairy pillow, bro.

    Silicone and hydrogel: robots for military and researchers

    Soft materials are used not only to make robots pleasant to the touch, but also to teach them to walk in small openings, move in water and merge with the terrain.

    A lot of hope in robotics today is associated with hydrogel. It remains solid, having up to 70% of water in its composition, and, which is important for the production of robots, changes shape by entering electric fields.

    At Rutgers University (State Research University of the USA, the largest university in New Jersey), scientists turnedin the hydrogel photosensitive solution. From the resulting substance, they printed figures resembling humans and insects, and placed them in salt water. When light or current was passed through the water, the gel objects moved. Some figures could capture and move cargo, and the men “walked” due to the fact that certain parts of their body were reduced. As the scientists say, a small step for a man is a giant step for mankind: in the future, on the basis of a hydrogel, it is possible that artificial muscles and realistic sea creatures will be created to explore the depths. The experiment took place in the spring of 2018.

    At Harvard University two years earlier they collectedthe current prototype of the robot, in the design of which there is not a single rigid part. It resembles an octopus. The body is made of silicone using 3D printing and soft lithography, and the robot moves due to a chemical reaction: inside its torso, hydrogen peroxide decomposes with the release of gas that enters the chambers and drives the limbs.

    At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a compromise was proposed: a robot that can be both soft and hard alternately. It is made of modified wax, pierced with thin wires; they are heated with electricity, and the wax in this place becomes flexible. The project was implemented together with Boston Dynamics for the DARPA program for creating “chemical robots”. The first publications are dated 2014 year. In the future, scientists plan to experiment with the material, replacing the fragile wax with a more plastic solder. A military robot made of metal, which can be solid or liquid ... Somewhere we have already seen this, is not it?

    Corn, flies and pork intestines: experiments with organic

    Organic materials are cheap, eco-friendly and fast renewable. Therefore, robotics do not get tired of exploring them. So, in 2018 Cornell University created a robot that moves thanks to popcorn. At the core of the design is the principle of the expansion of heated grains: scientists strung them onto a wire that heats up under the action of current. Corn turns into popcorn, and the robot squeezes the grip or picks up the load. During the experiment, a robot consisting of 36 grains, was able to lift a weight of 100 grams.

    The EcoBot II robot is content with an even cheaper raw material: glucose, which it extracts from insects. Developers, scientists from the University of the West of England (Bristol), placed inside the robot fuel cells with bacteria that convert protein into sugar. While the flies in the robot are placed manually, but in the future, scientists plan to equip it with bait traps. When the robot flies can feed on its own, it will operate as an autonomous data collection center: for example, transmit temperature and humidity in the area under study. The new model has not yet been presented to the public, although the first prototype was assembled back in 2004.

    But scientists from MIT claim the most exotic material for the robot. They createdminiature origami robot from the wall of the pig intestines, which is able to move in the human stomach and esophagus. Scientists comment that he can remove foreign bodies from the digestive tract, cover wounds or deliver point medication. It enters the stomach in a soluble capsule, and moves due to a strong magnetic field. The first successful tests were held in 2016.

    A soft toy robot ... and anything else

    How to turn into a robot any soft toy or doll? Researchers from Yale University found the answer: literally the other day, they introduced robotic leather to the world. It can be fixed on any object, and it will become a controlled robot.

    Sensors and actuators are located on an elastic basis. The skin is programmed for different actions. And if you have several layers at your disposal, you can create a multifunctional robot: for example, one that moves and captures objects.

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