Air-Powered Computer Image
An 8-bit pneumatic RAM chip used to help a soft robot control its movements. (William Grover)

Engineers at UC Riverside developed an air-powered computer memory that can be used to control soft robots. Existing systems for controlling pneumatic soft robots still use electronic valves and computers to maintain the position of the robot’s moving parts. These electronic parts add considerable cost, size, and power demands to soft robots, limiting their feasibility.

The researchers made their pneumatic random-access memory (RAM) chip using microfluidic valves instead of electronic transistors.

The system could be used to operate robots without any electronic hardware and only a battery-powered pump to create a vacuum. Without positive pressure anywhere in the system — only normal atmospheric air pressure — there is no risk of accidental overpressurization and violent failure of the robot or its control system.