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Soft robot designed so it can be folded and squashed

The new robot, designed by French researchers, is an ultra-light robotic ‘insect’ that makes use of soft artificial muscles in order to move at 3 centimeters per second. The robot is capable of traversing a variety of different terrain. The key feature is that the robot can be folded or crushed and yet still continue to function and move, marking a breakthrough in soft robotics.

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There are two versions of the soft robot, called the DEAnsect. The first version is very robust, and it can be folded, hit or squashed without any impact upon the robot’s ability to move. The second version of the device is fully wireless and autonomous, weighing less than 1 gram. The robot carries its battery and all electronic components on its back.

This second robot carries a microcontroller, which acts as the ‘brain’ and photodiodes which serve as the ‘eyes’, enabling the robot recognize black and white pattern. This means the flying variant of the DEAnsect can track any line on the ground.

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Both robots move by vibration. The machines are equipped with dielectric elastomer actuators, which are a type of hair-thin artificial muscle that propels the robot forward through vibrations. These artificial muscles are fashioned from an elastomer membrane, which is sandwiched between two soft electrodes.

The research is published in the journal Science Robotics. The research paper is titled “An autonomous untethered fast soft robotic insect driven by low-voltage dielectric elastomer actuators.”

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