Soft robots — which don’t just have soft exteriors but are also powered by fluid flowing through flexible channels — have become a sufficiently popular research topic that they now have their own journal, Soft Robotics. In the first issue of that journal, out this month, MIT researchers report the first self-contained autonomous soft robot capable of rapid body motion: a “fish” that can execute an escape maneuver, convulsing its body to change direction in just a fraction of a second, or almost as quickly as a real fish can.
The robotic fish was built by Andrew Marchese, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and lead author on the new paper, where he’s joined by postdoc Cagdas D. Onal and Daniela Rus, a professor of computer science and engineering, director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and one of the researchers who designed and built the fish. Each side of the fish’s tail is bored through with a long, tightly undulating channel. Carbon dioxide released from a canister in the fish’s abdomen causes the channel to inflate, bending the tail in the opposite direction.
“We’re excited about soft robots for a variety of reasons,” says Rus. “As robots penetrate the physical world and start interacting with people more and more, it’s much easier to make robots safe if their bodies are so wonderfully soft that there’s no danger if they whack you.”
Read the article on MIT news. photo by M. Scott Brauer