Scientists developed the fastest soft robot

A new type of soft robot that is capable of moving more quickly on solid surfaces or in the water than previous generations of soft robots.


By getting inspired by the biomechanics of cheetahs, scientists at North Carolina State University have developed the fastest ever soft robot that can move quickly on concrete surfaces or in the water than previous generations of soft robots.

What’s more, it can delicately grab objects or with sufficient strength to lift heavy objects.

The robot is 7 centimeters long and weighs about 45 grams. It has a spring-powered, ‘bistable’ spine. This means it has two stable states.

Jie Yin, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University, said, “We can switch between these stable states rapidly by pumping air into channels that line the soft, silicone robot. Switching between the two states releases a significant amount of energy, allowing the robot to exert force against the ground quickly. This enables the robot to gallop across the surface, meaning that its feet leave the ground.”

“Previous soft robots were crawlers, remaining in contact with the ground at all times. This limits their speed.”

The new class of soft robots, which are called “Leveraging Elastic instabilities for Amplified Performance” (LEAP), can reach speeds of up to 2.7 body lengths per second—more than three times faster—at a low actuation frequency of about 3Hz. These new robots are also capable of running up steep inclines, which can be challenging or impossible for soft robots that exert less force against the ground.”

Yin said, “We also demonstrated the use of several soft robots working together, like pincers, to grab objects. By tuning the force exerted by the robots, we were able to lift objects as delicate as an egg, as well as objects weighing 10 kilograms or more.”

Scientists noted that this work caters as a proof of idea and is idealistic that they can modify the design to make LEAP robots that are even faster quicker and more remarkable.

Yin said, “Potential applications include search and rescue technologies, where speed is essential, and industrial manufacturing robotics. For example, imagine production line robotics that is faster, but still capable of handling fragile objects.”

Journal Reference:
  1. Yichao Tang, Leveraging elastic instabilities for amplified performance: Spine-inspired high-speed and high-force soft robots. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaz6912
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