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line—metal and hydraulic parts, harshly rigid, and extremely strong. But for robots to harmoniously assist humans in close-range tasks—on or away from assembly lines—scientists are designing new classes of soft–bodied robots. One of the challeng- es is integrating soft materials with requisite rigid components that power and control the robot’s body. At the interface of these materials, stresses concentrate and structural integrity can be compro- mised, which often results in mechanical failure. But now, by understanding how organisms solve this problem by self–assembling their bodies in a way that produces a gradual transitioning from hard to soft parts, a team of researchers at Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have been able to use a novel 3D printing strategy to construct entire robots in a single build that incorporate this biodesign principle. The strategy permits construction of highly complex and robust structures that can’t
The layers of material gradient in this soft-bodied jumping robot make it durable and squishy to the touch—perfect attributes for a robot designed to jump across rough terrain and be safe for use in close proximity to humans.
be achieved using conventional nuts-and-bolts manufacturing. A proof-of-concept prototype—a soft-bodied autonomous jumping robot reported in the July 10 issue of Science—was
Photo courtesy Wyss Institute at Harvard University