- Annika Santhanam
Baymax in Real Life? How Soft Robotics Might Change the Future
The word soft robotics seems a bit like an oxymoron. How can a robot be soft? Some of the only soft robots you might have seen were animated figures on TV - like Baymax from Big Hero 6! But this type of robotics is developing further into reality, and like Baymax, will become incredibly helpful for society.
What Are Soft Robotics?
Soft Robotics are robots that mirror the biological movements and makeup of living creatures, known as biomimicry. These robots are extremely different from the typical robots we see, as the makeup of their structures and materials make them extremely adaptable and physically flexible for different situations and environments. Instead of a hard, metal exterior, soft robotics have synthetic skin, allowing their shape to change easily. Like the muscles within animals and humans, soft robotics utilizes electronics and microsystems to move parts of the robot with the ease that living organisms use. The best part about these soft robotics is that with the embedded microsystems, the robots are completely wireless!
What Are Soft Robotics Used For?
Soft Robotics have a wide range of functions, starting with mobility aid and exoskeletons for humans. Currently, those with injuries or artificial limbs rely on metal, plastic, and often clunky hardware to help them move around in their day-to-day lives, including wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs. However, soft robotics can replace these materials to simulate human muscles and movement.
Soft robotics, with their flexible structure, could take the form of a soft bandage around the person’s limb, acting not only as a wearable sensor but also becoming a soft structure to aid the limb’s movement. Additionally, soft robotics are becoming self-fusing and self-healing, allowing it to adapt to any damage that occurs. These exosuits and prosthetics can easily improve the quality of human life!
Soft robotics can also come to the aid of search and rescue operations along with medical procedures. Soft robots are much more flexible and adaptable than typical metal robots and tools, allowing them to operate easily, especially in confined environments. In natural disasters, soft robots can fit into small spaces or cracks, allowing them to search for and precisely locate any survivors underneath wreckage. In surgical environments, soft robotics could provide a range of sensors for surgeons along with a more flexible operating tool in order to ensure that surgeries are precise and effective. The versatility of soft robotics allows it to be extremely useful for so many fields, and its development into the future will allow them to become the forefront of innovative technology.
What Do Today’s Soft Robots Do?
Today’s soft robots are in the infant stages of the field, but they do provide a promising look at the possible advances of the future. Universities like Carnegie Mellon and Harvard have already created soft robotics prototypes, which mimic animals like fish, octopi, and other organisms with soft limbs and movements. These robots already function wirelessly, with the limbs moving like the actual muscles within the living organisms. These projects have shown on a small scale how soft robotics can be put to use in the future. Additionally, larger projects, including a soft robotics glove, have been developed to allow users with limb deficiencies to aid their hands or fingers to hold things and possibly provide a form of rehabilitation for these users.
Soft robotics is a field that is predicted to grow exponentially in as little as two years, and we can’t wait to see what the field brings to human advancement next. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more articles!