At the beginning of the decade, George Whitesides helped rewrite the rules of what a machine could be with the development of biologically inspired “soft robots.” Now he’s poised to rewrite them again, with help from some plastic drinking straws.Inspired by arthropod insects and spiders, Whitesides and Alex Nemiroski, a former postdoctoral fellow in Whitesides’ Harvard lab, have created a type of semi-soft robot capable of standing and walking. The team also created a robotic water strider capable of pushing itself along the liquid surface. The robots are described in a recently published paper in the journal Soft Robotics.Unlike earlier generations of soft robots, which could stand and awkwardly walk by inflating air chambers in their bodies, the new robots are designed to be far nimbler. 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.“If you look around the world, there are a lot of things, like spiders and insects, that are very agile,” said Whitesides, the Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor at Harvard. “They can move rapidly, climb on various items, and are able to do things that large, hard… Read full this story
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