Flexible machine goes where no robot has gone before.

Science

‘Octobot’ is the world’s first soft-bodied robot

Octopuses are notorious escape artists, able to squeeze and squish themselves into and around nearly any obstacle they encounter. In an ode to these crafty cephalopods, researchers have created the first completely soft-bodied robot, dubbed the “octobot.” The palm-sized machine’s exterior is made of silicone. And whereas other soft robots have had at least a few hard parts, such as batteries or wires, the octobot uses a small reservoir of hydrogen peroxide as fuel. When the hydrogen peroxide washes over flecks of platinum embedded within the octobot, the resulting chemical reaction produces gas that inflates and flexes the robot’s arms. As described online today in Nature, the gas flows through a series of 3D-printed pneumatic chambers that link the octobot’s eight arms; their flexing propels it through water. Over the course of their project, the team created hundreds of trial octobots, meticulously tweaking the pneumatics until the timing was just right. Right now, the octobot’s fuel lasts between 4 and 8 minutes, and it can’t steer in any particular direction. The researchers are now working to add sensors to the robot, which would allow it to detect objects in its environment and navigate toward or away from them. The basic design can be scaled up or down, increasing or decreasing fuel capacity depending on the robot’s job. As the field of soft robotics advances, the scientists envision these robots being used for marine search and rescue, oceanic temperature sensing, and military surveillance.