Last year Scientists from Harvard University developed a new type of soft and flexible robot inspired by body structure of squid and starfish that can crawl, roll and squeeze under barriers. Now scientists are working on a squishy robot that can disguise itself or change its color to stand out from its background.
These features could one day be used to help doctors plan complex surgeries or act as a visual marker to help search crews following a disaster, said Stephen Morin, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology.
Same as making soft robots, scientists first use a 3D printer to create the molds, then silicone is poured into the molds to create micro-channels, which are topped with another layer of silicone.
Once the layers were created, researchers can pump colored liquids into the channels, causing the robot to mimic the colors and patterns of its environment. For example, using fluorescent liquids could make the robots glow in the dark. The whole process takes even less than 30 seconds.
But the soft robots' camouflage isn't limited to color. Harvard team is working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to add another feature to the soft robots: to be able to change temperature.
By pumping heated or cooled liquids into the channels, researchers can camouflage the robots thermally (infrared color).
"There is an enormous amount of spectral control we can exert with this system," said Morin. "We can design color layers with multiple channels, which can be activated independently. We've only begun to scratch the surface, I think, of what's possible."
According to DARPA, the prototypes can be built for less than $100 a piece.
This is not the end. Morin envisions robots using the system as a way to signal their position, both to other robots, and to the public. In dimly lit conditions of a nature disaster, a robot that stands out from its surroundings (or even glows in the dark) could be useful in leading rescue crews trying to locate survivors.
(Images credit: DARPA)
What is the future for such soft robot? Researchers say in the future it could go very fast, a speed of about 40 meters per hour (0.024 mph) and it could even interact with their environment.
The technology is still very much at the test stage. "What we hope is that this work can inspire other researchers to think about these problems and approach them from different angles," he continued. "There are many biologists who are studying animal behavior as it relates to camouflage, and they use different models to do that. We think something like this might enable them to explore new questions, and that will be valuable."
In the videos below Harvard researchers demonstrate soft robot camouflage system.
Posted in 3D Printing Applications
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