Developers from Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have produced the first untethered soft robot — a quadruped that can stand up and walk away from its designers.

The researchers were able to scale up earlier soft-robot designs, enabling a single robot to carry on its back all the equipment it needs to operate — micro-compressors, control systems, and batteries.

Compared with earlier soft robots, which were typically no larger than a steno pad, the system is huge, measuring more than a half-meter in length and capable of carrying as much as 7½ pounds on its back.

Giving the untethered robot the strength needed to carry mechanical components meant air pressures as high as 16 pounds per square inch, more than double the seven psi used by many earlier robot designs. To deal with the increased pressure, the robot had to be made of tougher stuff.

The material settled on was a “composite” silicone rubber made from stiff rubber impregnated with hollow glass microspheres to reduce the robot’s weight. The robot’s bottom was made from Kevlar fabric to ensure it was tough and lightweight. The result was a robot that can stand up to a host of extreme conditions.


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