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‘Lego-Like’ Vacuum-Powered Robot Can Reassemble Into Other Machines

‘Lego-Like’ Vacuum-Powered Robot Can Reassemble Into Other Machines


These fleshy-looking body parts aren’t for humans; they’re actually the building blocks for a new soft robot.

A team of researchers built a set of robotic body parts from foam and silicone. And like Legos, the robot’s parts are interchangeable and can be swapped to create a variety of tools.

For example, when the robot is equipped with suction cups, it can become an arm.

Those suction cups could also be used as feet. The same team created a caterpillar-like robot that can carry objects up a wall.

The vacuum-powered prototypes deflate parts of themselves to move around. If walking doesn’t work, the robot can wiggle or roll.

The designers said their technology could be a cheap way for educators, researchers or hobbyists to experiment with soft robots.

A robot to sort your Tupperware, clean your windows, and fetch you a drink may be on its way. It’s not a humanoid, but rather a little critter, built with soft artificial muscles powered by a vacuum. The creation comes in many different modules that can be clicked together like Lego for different tasks.

“Everyone has a Swiss army knife somewhere, we want this to be the robot equivalent,” says Jamie Paik at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. It could be used as an extra hand when trying to hammer a nail into a wall, or left alone to organise your fridge. “You can keep this in your toolbox, ready to help automate simple tasks around the home,” she says.

The robot is cheap and quick to produce. It consists of foam cores and layers of silicone rubber that can be manufactured from scratch in less than two hours.

Most robots use positive air pressure to drive artificial muscles but this can lead to mechanical problems from too much expansion. In contrast, Paik’s robot uses suction to manipulate its muscles. This is much more like how humans move theirs, as contraction rather than expansion powers the movement.

“Brining robots into our lives does not mean that we have to be friends with terminator. It’s about making things better,” says Paik.

Journal reference: Science Robotics, DOI: doi:10.1126/scirobotics.aan6357

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