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'Roly poly' soft, wobbly robot BANGS EXPLOSIVELY, leaps 0.5m in air

Rounded 'soft machine' invented by Swiss boffins

Boffins at the Institute for Chemical and Bioengineering at Zurich have developed an “untethered, jumping, roly-poly” soft robot powered by explosive gases.

Soft Robotics is a field of bio-inspired robotics which derives its inspiration from animals such as starfish, worms, squid and octopuses. Avoiding the use of hard components in the design allows the robot to maneuver in situations where a rigid gait would be inefficient.

While movement in soft robots can be driven by magnetic fields, electrical charge or pneumatic expansion, the “untethered, jumping, roly-poly” hybrid robot is combustion-actuated. Powered by nitrous oxide-propane/butane gas mixtures, the 2.1kg robot can jump and cover a distance of 0.5m with a single hop-and-roll movement.

In the article “An Untethered, Jumping Roly-Poly Soft Robot Driven by Combustion” published in the peer-reviewed Soft Robotics journal, the researchers stated their intention was to illustrate “the application of fuels to directly power a soft machine,” which was a success, although “in terms of running time, this soft robot still has to be further improved. Operation time was no longer than 2 min, which is clearly unacceptable for potential outdoor use.”

The “roly-poly” behaviour of the Zurich team's robot is in stark contrast to the disconcerting crawl-cum-slither of Harvard researchers' soft robot as recorded navigating obstacles. ®

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