As robots become more prevalent in the world of science and research, the emerging field of soft robotics is taking a different approach to design and function. The main characteristic of these robots is that they’re constructed out of soft materials like rubber, polymers, and sometimes fabric. The actuators of the robots — the parts that make them move — use hydraulics or pneumatics instead of the bulky motors traditional robots use. These actuators move water or air through the soft body parts to create predictable motion while other soft robots use shape memory alloy wires that predictably change shape when exposed to heat. When it comes to a power source, soft robotics currently rely on small lithium ion batteries, but researchers are exploring the possibility of using chemical energy from hydrocarbons instead.
The field of soft robotics does have some limitations, though. Scientists still have difficulty integrating the pumps for the pneumatic actuators on board the robot, and we haven’t yet made soft batteries with enough energy density. The reason this field is so promising is that potential applications soft robotics have from search and rescue to medical diagnosis and treatment. Easily adaptable to new tasks and environments, it seems that robot evolution has begun.
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