Soft robots from North Carolina State University use pre‑stressed polymers that quickly release their energy to propel forward.

Benefits

  • Flexible
  • Efficient
  • Energy‑saving

Applications

  • Underwater exploration
  • Medical procedures

UN Sustainable Development Goals Addressed

  • Goal 9: Industry Innovation & Infrastructure

The Challenge

Robots are capable of moving at fast speeds, but they are oftentimes built with a stiff inner spine. This configuration can sometimes be unstable and limiting when different movements are required. These robots also need to use a lot of energy in order to move quickly and accurately.

Innovation Details

The soft robot is made of two bonded layers created from the same elastic polymer. One layer is stretchy, while the other contains an air channel. The robot moves when air is pumped into the channel, and the direction of movement is controlled by stretching the stretchable layer in two of the four directions (either up and down, or side-to-side), creating a dome-shape that resembles a jellyfish. Once air is allowed to leave the channel, the material snaps back into its original ‘resting’ state. As the jellyfish-bot “relaxes,” the dome curves up, like a shallow bowl. When air is pumped into the channel again, the dome quickly curves down, pushing out water and propelling the robot forward. The robot is able to move at 53.3 millimeters per second, which is faster than the average jellyfish that moves at about 30 millimeters per second.

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Biomimicry Story

Jellyfish swim by jet propulsion. When its bell contracts, water is squeezed out, jetting the jellyfish in the opposite direction. The jellyfish has a nervous system that ensures all the muscle fibers contract at the right time, and it can control its swimming direction by contracting the radiating muscle fibers unequally.