Soft robots take a leap forward

14 February 2013
Posted by Laura Howes.

When you think of robots do you think of leaping bits of silicone powered by explosions? Probably not, but researchers based at Harvard University in the US have made just such a device. The small triped is simply made from commercial silicone that's moulded into a simple shape with a valve at the end of each leg. When a mix of methane and oxygen is pumped into the hollow legs of the robot and lit with a spark the two gases quickly react and cause an explosion and a large amount of expanding gas that deforms the robot causing it to leap high into the air. In fact the researchers don't know quite how high their 1cm robot can leap because they were testing it in a 30cm high container and it the robot hit the top. Explosions might not seem the ideal way to power robots but it's how our cars get us to work every day - sparks make the petrol combust and the resulting gases drive the engine. This soft robot, though, is much simpler, and cheaper, than your car's engine or more traditional mechanical robots. It's hoped one day this soft squidgy robot could jump over obstacles in disaster sites with the added benefit of it not mattering too much if it gets lost or broken.

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