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Soft robots are growing in popularity thanks to their durability and low costs compared to other robotics. But researchers at Tsinghua University in China and the University of California, Berkeley have found a new reason to love soft robots, they can be extremely durable.
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The researchers developed a new type of robot that had a relative speed of 20 body lengths per second, clocking a speed that is the fastest measure among Artifical insect scale robots. The soft robot, which looks like a strip of paper, can carry loads, climb slopes and are as sturdy as cockroaches. The robot could also withstand the weight of an adult footstep which researchers said in the report published in Science Robotics, is around one million more times heavier than the soft robot.
Soft Robot with Two Legs Could be Used To Explore Environments, Structures
The researchers also developed a robot that had two legs rather than one and was able to go faster. According to a report, the researchers said the robots with two legs could be used to explore environments, structures and for disaster relief. The robot, which is no bigger than a stamp, is comprised of a thin sheet of piezoelectric material called polyvinylidene fluoride. The material is coated with an elastic polymer that enables it to bend. Add a leg to the robot and it can propel forward.
Soft robots have many attributes that make them attractive to researchers. They are flexible and can adapt to new environments. They can also be repaired and replaced on the cheap.
"By generalizing several solutions found in animals, we introduce a fast and ultra-robust insect-scale soft robot for potential applications in environmental exploration, structural inspection, information reconnaissance, and disaster relief," wrote the researchers. "Our robot uses the large vibration amplitude and a bouncing gait mechanism to generate a wavelike locomotion near its resonant frequency."
NASA Working on Soft Robot to Explore Moon
The researchers at Tsinghua University in China and the University of California aren't the only ones using soft robots to explore the environment. In May NASA announced two interns are developing soft robotic actuators that could be sued to explore the moon. The interns, Chuck Sullivan and Jack Fitzpatrick working at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. "When you actuate the soft robot, it changes how you use the material properties," Fitzpatrick said in a statement at the time. "A piece of rubber going from flat to the shape of a finger, it changes the material into something else."