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A Robot to Hug

Yesterday the Wyss Institute announced their new octopus inspired soft robot, the Octobot.  Octobot is a technological marvel, with no batteries, no electrical motors, no wheels, no saws, no lasers, it's just a beautifully sophisticated lump of jello - like us! In honor of this advance of soft robotics I wanted to share a short wish-list of a few organisms from the ocean deep that the brilliant minds at Wyss could help me turn into reality.

 

StarFish   Robot (Echinobot)

The most challenging robot on my wish-list is without a doubt the EchinoBot.  Starfish have a wonderfully bizzar system of locomotion that is perfect for soft robotics. The video above highlights a few of the more exciting opportunities for soft robotics inspired by the starfish. Tube feet are a spectacular use of what is essentially water balloons with muscles, yet they allow starfish to operate in high flow environments, open tough clams, and navigate complex terrain. Imagine house starfish that would clean out the air ducts? Or maybe we have robotic starfish in the ocean that provides sensor data of water quality?

The hard plates of the skeleton joined by muscle tissue is another exciting opportunity. What if our starfish robot could withstand extreme pressures, or be super resilient in the face of continuous collisions. I could imagine a starfish robot on any kids playground that could survive the wrath of a 2 year old yet also entertain for hours. 

 

Scallop Robot (Lopbot)

h best thing about the Lopbot is that the focus is really on the sensor network of eyes. Scallops are best known as tasty dinner items, but are a thriving part of the marine ecosystem. Their locomotion mechanism is surprisingly effective, and I think within soft robotics could be achieved more easily and more resiliently than with more traditional engineering approaches. Combining the locomotion with simple light sensor and a processor could enable a robotic scallop that behaves almost like the real thing. Besides the charming interaction, my hope is that a Lopbot could be useful not only in pools for kids, but for serious applications such self organizing sensors for water quality, or underwater acoustic applications. They might even change the behavior of other organisms around them, protecting underwater areas, or acting as 'scare crows' of the sea for the emerging field of ocean farming.

 

Jellyfish Robot (Jellybot)

Why wouldn't you want a Jellybot? Jellyfish are incredible, just ask Rebecca Helm of JellyBiologist, who for years has shared some of the most inspiringly geeky stories of jellyfish amazingness. A true huggable soft robot if there ever was one, the jellyfish itself is not to be underestimated. They have shut down nuclear power plants, and Rebecca points out they may even helps us clean micro-pollution from the ocean. With their efficient, and beautiful locomotion the Jellybot should also not be understimted as an ambassador for soft robots everywhere.