Soft Robot Is Able To Leap 30 Times Its Height

Sunday, February 10, 2013

George Whitesides soft jumping robot

Unlike robots that are built out of rigid metals and plastic, soft-bodied robots that can squeeze into hard-to-reach places and have other applications that closely mimic biological systems.  Now  Harvard's Whitesides Research Group is developing a soft-robot that can jump 30 times its height using the energy from internal explosions.
Agroup of researchers led by George Whitesides, a chemist at Harvard University, have engineered a three-legged silicone robot that is powered by combustion — previously used only in hard systems such as automobile engines.

The soft robot has in each of its legs a channel with a soft valve at the end. Methane and oxygen gases are fed into this channel in a ratio of one part methane to two parts oxygen. Next, a computer that controls how much gas is let in also controls a high-voltage cable connected to electrodes in each leg.

Once the computer sparks the electrodes, the methane and oxygen explode, turning into carbon dioxide and water plus a burst of energy.

This energy provides downward force, making the the robot jump — so far higher than 30 centimeters  although the researchers say the range has been limited by the height of the testing chamber, and the fact that the gas tethers are restricting the device.

A crucial design feature of the soft robot, says Robert Shepherd, a study co-author and engineer at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. It closes in response to high pressure, thus making the pressure even higher, and then it opens after the explosion to let the exhaust gases out.

Soft robots

Soft robots are lighter and simpler than hard systems, and they are relatively inexpensive to produce — but they have previously been limited to compressed-air power, owing to the high heat generated in combustion reactions.

“The key discovery is that this material can work at these high temperatures,” says Shepherd. The robot has withstood more than 30 consecutive explosive jumps so far. The results were published this week in Angewandte Chemie.

The researchers hope that a developed version of their device could be used for search-and-rescue operations, leaping and cartwheeling its way over any obstacles that might block its path.

SOURCE  Nature

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