Soft robot from the University of California San Diego has a 3D‑printed 'flexoskeleton' with both soft and rigid parts.

Benefits

  • Flexible
  • Interchangeable parts
  • Reduced costs

Applications

  • Robotics
  • Protective equipment

UN Sustainable Development Goals Addressed

  • Goal 9: Industry Innovation & Infrastructure

The Challenge

Soft robots are typically made by adding soft materials to a rigid inner body. The process consists of multiple steps, including casting and machining. This increases the time, cost, and likelihood of mistakes.

Innovation Details

The soft robot is made of a ‘flexoskeleton’ that consists of a soft body and rigid outer components. It was inspired by the exoskeletons of insects, which have both soft and rigid flexible parts. The soft body is 3D printed with a rigid material on a thin sheet of polycarbonate that acts as a flexible base. The 3D printer controls the rigidity of the material it prints, allowing for a variety of different options. This method makes it easy to create a whole library of Lego-like components that can easily be swapped for one another as needed. One flexoskeleton component takes 10 minutes to print and costs less than one dollar; a whole robot can be printed in under two hours.