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Harvard Scientists Build Fart-Powered Octobot for Soft Robotics

Aug 25, 2016 04:00 AM EDT
A team of Harvard scientists has created the first ever octobot, a squishy autonomous robot that's powered by hydrogen peroxide. The soft robot resembles an octopus with tentacles and is made out of flexible materials.
(Photo : Sanja/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)

A soft, rubber-like robot powered by farts? It's all real! A team of Harvard scientists has created the first ever octobot, a squishy autonomous robot that's powered by gas under pressure such as hydrogen peroxide.

According to the study published in the journal Nature, this soft robot that resembles an octopus is made out of flexible materials and stands at two centimeters. The revolutionary invention breaks away previous ideas that robots should be made of hard materials and rely on a skeleton, paving the way to further exploration on soft robotics.

“The struggle has always been in replacing rigid components like batteries and electronic controls with analogous soft systems and then putting it all together,” Robert Wood, one of the authors of the study, told NPR. “This research demonstrates that we can easily manufacture the key components of a simple, entirely soft robot, which lays the foundation for more complex designs.”

The octobot, according to Popular Science, is printed in 3D including including its circuits and motors. Currently, a machine controls the octobot's autonomous mobility. However, researchers are looking forward to making improvements, creating future octobots that can crawl, walk and flop on their own.

Meanwhile, Michael Wehner of the Wood Lab and co-author of the study, described the ingenuity of using gas under pressure as a power source for the octobot.

"Fuel sources for soft robots have always relied on some type of rigid components. The wonderful thing about hydrogen peroxide is that a simple reaction between the chemical and a catalyst -- in this case platinum -- allows us to replace rigid power sources," he said.

Soft autonomous robots, according to roboticist Barry Trimmer, are useful in homes and other natural environments as they are "more robust, safe and biocompatible than current robots."

Right now, the octobot can only flex its body, but scientists are looking forward to creating more soft robot models that can squeeze in tight places for further use. To learn more about the octobot, check out the video below.

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