Inspired by nature: tiny multi-layer soft robots

prototype-soft-robotsResearchers at Harvard and Boston University have developed a new fabrication technique to assemble highly functional millimetre-sized soft robots with micrometre-scaled features. The capabilities of this technique were evaluated using a soft robotic spider, inspired by Australia’s millimetre sized peacock spider.

The Microfluidic Origami for Reconfigurable Pneumatic/Hydraulic (MORPH) device uses a soft lithography technique to form 12 elastic silicone layers. Each layer is precisely moulded, cut and compressed to form a 3D structure. Channels etched into the layers are pressurised to induce self-folding and to generate the final cured configuration. Hydraulic water pressurise actuates the limbs to move the tiny rubber robots.

Presently, the smallest and simplest robotic systems are centimetre-sized and move with just one change in shape or one motion. However, this fabrication techniques enables 18 distinct changes in structure, motion, colour and features at a micrometre range.

“The MORPH approach could open up the field of soft robotics to researchers who are more focused on medical applications where the smaller sizes and flexibility of these robots could enable an entirely new approach to endoscopy and microsurgery,” said Wyss Institute Bioengineering Professor Donald Ingber.

Read more: Science DailyThe Engineer / Harvard

Image: Wyss Institute

This story is taken from the 10 August 2018 edition of The Warren Centre’s Prototype newsletter. Sign up for the Prototype here.