Spider-Inspired, Semi-Soft 'Arthrobots' Made of Drinking Straws

Inspired by arthropod insects and spiders, Harvard University researchers have created a new type of semi-soft robot that can stand and walk around - by using drinking straws and inflatable tubing. The team was even able to create a robotic water strider capable of pushing itself along the water's surface. The researchers were inspired by the excellent strength-to-weight ratio of polypropylene tubes - opening the door to creating something that has more structural support than purely soft robots have. The new robots are designed to be quite nimble. Though real-world applications are still far off, the researchers hope the robots eventually could be used in search operations following natural disasters or in conflict zones. To build a new surprisingly simple joint, the team began by putting a notch in the straws, allowing them to bend. The scientists then inserted short lengths of tubing which, when inflated, would force the joints to extend. A rubber tendon attached on either side would then cause the joint to retract when the tubing deflated.