Tag Archives: Soft Robot

LineFORM is a futuristic shape-changing interface

This shape-changing soft robot can be a phone, a wristwatch, a keyboard, a lamp and more.

When it comes to today’s mobile devices, the touchscreen has increasingly become one of the most common ways that we interact with our gadgetry. From our smartphones to our in-car infotainment systems to our computers, seemingly everything has a touch display. However, one team from MIT’s Tangible Media Group wants to change that.


The researchers have developed a shape-shifting, snake-like soft robot built from actuated curve interfaces that can transform into pretty much anything — from a phone, to a wristwatch, to a lamp, to a cable, to an exoskeleton. The project, called LineFORM, is comprised of several small servo motors controlled by an Arduino Mega (ATmega2560), which are covered by a black spandex skin embedded with pressure sensors. The linear set of motors can move either together with the others or independently to create all sorts of shapes for various applications in a matter of seconds. Meanwhile, the system is connected to a MacBook running custom programs written in Processing.


The hope is that LineFORM will open up new ways to engage with technology. According to the team, “We envisage LineFORM-style devices coupled with flexible displays as next generation mobile devices, which can display complex information, provide affordances on demand for different tasks, and constrain user interaction.”

For example, LineFORM can be worn around your wrist and give you a tap when an appointment is approaching, and then curl up into a touch-sensitive keypad. It can wiggle and vibrate whenever you receive a text message. It can twist into an assortment of shapes and be employed as a “dynamic ruler” for drafting and drawing. It can wrap around your limps like bandages and act like a robotic exoskeleton, while also recording motion and replaying it back on your body. What’s more, a light module enables it to magically turn into tabletop lamp for reading.


Although still a proof-of-concept, LineFORM boasts endless possibilities, and who knows, may one day be the single replacement for the dozens of electronics we use everyday for countless things. Intrigued? Check out the project’s paper here, or just watch it in action below!

This 3D-printed robot can jump six times its height

This first-of-its-kind, autonomous robot blasts off like a UFO.

In a paper published Thursday in Science magazine, engineers from Harvard University and the UC San Diego have revealed a 3D-printed, autonomous robot capable of over 30 untethered jumps without connection to an external computer or power source. Actuated by a combination of butane and oxygen, this little bot can leap two and a half feet into the air — up to six times its body height.

(Source: Harvard Microrobotics Lab)

(Source: Harvard Microrobotics Lab)

Inspired by nature, the project uses the combination of both hard and soft materials which its designers say make it a more efficient jumper. For example, certain species of mussels have a foot that starts out soft and then becomes rigid at the point where it makes contact with rocks.

“In nature, complexity has a very low cost,” explains Michael Tolley, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at UC San Diego. “Using new manufacturing techniques like 3D printing, we’re trying to translate this to robotics.”

Soft robotics is surely a hot topic at the moment, as engineers are finding them to be much more adaptable and resilient than their conventional, metal-based counterparts. However, their flexibility comes at a coast: they tend to be slower, more difficult to fabricate and challenging to make autonomous due to the fact that most motors, pumps, batteries, sensors and microcontrollers are rigid.

Fortunately, the joint research project has come up with a design that offers a new solution to this conundrum by integrating hard and soft materials. In other words, the best of both worlds.

The combustion-powered robot is comprised of two hemispheres: a soft, plunger-like body with three pneumatic legs at the bottom and a 3D-printed, sturdy core on top. The latter houses a custom circuit board, a high-voltage power source, a battery, a miniature air compressor, a butane fuel cell, six solenoid valves, an oxygen cartridge and pressure regulator and ducts to move the gas and stuff around as necessary. What’s more, it has nine graduating levels of stiffness.

(Source: Science)

(Source: Science)

In order to determine the perfect gradient of firmness, researchers tried a couple prototypes. And what they found was that a fully rigid top would make for higher jumps, while a flexible top was more likely to survive impacts on landing, allowing the robot to be reused.

For movement, the robot inflates its pneumatic legs to tilt its body in the direction that it wants to go. From there, butane and oxygen are mixed together and ignited, catapulting it into the air like a UFO. Once the chemical charge is exhausted, the bottom hemisphere goes back to its original shape. Researchers say that the robot’s jumping ability and soft body can come in handy in harsh and unpredictable or disastrous environments, enabling it to survive large falls and other unexpected situations.

In a series of tests, the robot was able to leap two and a half feet in height and half a foot laterally. Beyond that, it jumped more than 100 times and survived an additional 35 falls from a height of nearly four feet.

Interested? Read the project’s entire article here.

Flames and acid can’t stop this soft robot

This robot may not look all that intimidating at first glance, but beware — is is as resilient as they come. A group from Harvard University’s Whiteside Research Group has unleashed their latest indestructible design upon the world: pneumatically-powered, fully-untethered mobile soft robot. In other words, a quadruped that can stand up and walk away from its designers.

(Source: Harvard)

(Source: Harvard)

In the original design, a tethered air compressor created this robot’s mass; while, the newest iteration of the crawler possesses an internal compressor that inflates the silicone skin. With more parts being incorporated inside the design’s silicone shell, there is little that can slow down this amorphous android.

The prototype’s design encompassed a complete set of functional elements — including body, power source, control system, and sensors.

“The body of our soft robot consists of four legs connected to a central body, each of which is actuated by a Pneu-Net, in a configuration identical to our previous, tethered quadrupedal soft robot design. In order to increase the rate of actuation of the larger untethered robot, we used a Pneu-Net design that allows for actuation at lower pressures, and with less volumetric flow of gas into the Pneu-Nets, than our prior design,” the researchers note. “The spine of the robot is actuated by two parallel Pnet-Nets with space between them to accommodate the power supply, control board, and two air compressors.”

(Source: Harvard)

(Source: Harvard)

The soft robot measures in at 25.6-inches, significantly larger than its predecessor. The silicone shell housing the unit has been tested at sub-zero temperatures, 40 km/h winds and 3,000 degree kelvin flames for up to 50 seconds. That’s almost 5,000° F! Researchers have even the robot in snow, submerged it in water, walked it through flames, and ran it over with a car. Oh, and this little fellow is resistant to acid, in case you thought you had a bright idea on how to discourage him. After every single experiment, it emerged unscathed.

According to the report, a custom, lightweight board was designed to control the mini air compressors and solenoid valves that actuate the soft robot. An ATmega168 MCU on the controller board with an Arduino bootloader was used for uploading, storing, and executing programs to control the soft robot. Control programs were stored in the onboard memory of the controller.

“These programs, written and uploaded using the Arduino interface, consisted of sequences of commands to the control valves and air compressors. The extent of actuation of a Pneu-Net was controlled by the duration that the valve connecting it to the source of pressurized gas was opened,” the report states.

What does this device mean for the technology community as a whole? This innovation by the team at Harvard is ushering in a new era of autonomous robots. Could you imagine strapping a GPS locater and camera to this crawling unit and exploring areas that are uninhabitable by humans? As with all Atmel powered gadgets, the possibilities are truly endless. As the materials become stronger and the production becomes further internalized and streamlined, an army of these soft robots could be in the field in the coming years.

“Earlier versions of soft robots were all tethered, which works fine in some applications, but what we wanted to do was challenge people’s concept of what a robot has to look like,” said Michael Tolley, co-author of the report and a Research Associate at Wyss Institute. “We think the reason people have settled on using metal and rigid materials for robots is because they’re easier to model and control. This work is very inspired by nature, and we wanted to demonstrate that soft materials can also be the basis for robots.”

Read the Harvard team’s entire publication here.