Rise of Shape-Shifting Robots
When you think of robots, the first thing that pops into your mind is probably something that looks like this:
Cold, hard, rigid… meant for tasks like assembly-line work.
But the way that these traditional robots are designed doesn’t always make for a safe environment for humans to work alongside
Safely working with humans isn’t the only thing that these hard robots lack in, either.
Which is why years ago scientists began developing a subfield of robotics called “soft robotics.”
Unlike their metallic cousins, soft robots are made up of compliant materials. Think of traditional robots as bowling balls while soft robots are more like bouncy balls.
And everything about them… from the materials used to build them… to their programming… is meant to mimic living organisms.
This subset of robotics still has a long way to go, but the applications could lead to huge breakthroughs and big profits for the companies willing to take the leap.
When fish swarm, the animals coordinate their locations with each other — moving as one cohesive unit.
Octopuses can bend and contort themselves into different shapes, often taking on different colors as well.
Scientists draw on these natural occurrences, as well as countless others, to design the characteristics and makeup of soft robots.
By copying the traits of the living, it opens up these machines to fill a void traditional robots have left.
Their shape-shifting nature allows them to be used in invasive surgery — adjusting and conforming to the different structures of the human body.
Because they are able to conform in this way, soft robots can also be used in physical therapy and rehab or in assisting the elderly. While hard robots have been used in these ways, their rigidness can restrict our natural movements, limiting their capabilities to truly make a difference.
And since soft robots mimic living organisms, scientists hope to copy specific animals in order for deep-sea exploration and possibly space exploration.
These are just a few uses, and soft robots are still in their infancy. And because it’s still early, the companies making strides are just startups.
But yet another evolution of the robotics industry just goes to show how vast this area can span… and gives us even more opportunities to profit.