It’s balloon art on steroids: a pneumatic, shape-changing soft robot capable of navigating its environment without requiring a tether to a stationary power source.
Developed by researchers in UC Santa Barbara mechanical engineering professor Elliot Hawkes’s group, it’s also a major step in the effort to bring soft robots to human environments, where their characteristics are uniquely suited for interaction with and around people.
“The main challenge that we’re trying to address is to make a human-scale soft robot,” said Hawkes, whose paper appears in the journal Science Robotics. Most soft robots to date tend to be small, and often are tethered to the wall for power or compressed air, he explained. But what if they could create a soft robot large enough and strong enough to perform human-scale interactions and independent enough to navigate diverse, unstructured environments, such as disaster zones?