Robots made from hard materials are not well equipped to handle fragile objects, so researchers have created prototypical 'soft' robots from elastic polymers. These can perform delicate tasks such as picking up eggs.
George Whitesides and his colleagues at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, embedded balloon-like channels in moulded silicones to create materials that change shape in specific ways when air is pumped into the channels. This can generate complex motion from a single source of pressure, leading to designs such as the team's starfish-shaped gripper (pictured).
With appropriate materials, this technology might eventually produce robots that can handle heavy loads or conduct electricity.
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'Soft' robot has deft touch. Nature 470, 8 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1038/470008a