Going Soft

Inspired by puffer fish, cartilaginous sharks, and armadillo penises, all of which show exhibit remarkable stress/strain curves versus hard materials. The inventor Saul Griffith (with beard) shows it off to a gaggle of Googlers.


Each arm weighs only 1 pound and so it moves and changes direction at remarkable speeds (our minds presume something that big would have more inertia). But the high-speed control algorithms are not perfected yet. I was sitting next to Rodney Brooks, and had to suggest that they are “fast, cheap and out of control.”


His robots are sewn. They deflate to a pile of fabric. No gears. No rigid structures inside. (Name suggestion from audience: "Sewbots")


With four people on a walking robot, “it has a strength-to-weight ratio 10-100x better than hard robots.”


A key insight from nature: “compliance can substitute for mass” Trees survive a storm better than telephone poles.


Now working on soft wrap-around prosthesis for arm and leg. Others: “We now know that the heart is a linear sheet of muscle wrapped in a knot.” He also showed a design sketch of a muscular-looking submarine. Then, add fluidic computation and soft sensors


“We have SolidWorks, but there is no CAD tool yet for SoftWorks.”


Otherlab: “we have too much fun.”


Why do this? “To delight my 6-year old niece who asked me if she could ride a toy elephant to school, we should do this.”


Here is a short video I took of it in action. It gives a good handshake.

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Taken on February 7, 2013