Skynet called. They want their Terminator T-800 prototype back. Harvard University has created an unnerving soft quadrupedal robot whose “silicone body is innately resilient to a variety of adverse environmental conditions including snow, puddles of water, direct (albeit limited) exposure to flames, and the crushing force of being run over by an automobile.” Greeeeeeeeeat. Watch the terrifying video below.
Via IEEE Spectrum:
The silicone rubber that the robot has been made out of is extraordinarily tough, such that it can continue to function in subzero temperatures (tested down to -9 degrees Celsius), 40 km/h winds, puddles of up to 5 centimeters of water, and 3,000 Kelvin methane flames for up to 50 seconds. It’s also resistant to acid, for whatever that’s worth.
This version is completely autonomous, in that it’ll run quite happily by itself for about 2 hours before it runs out of battery power. It doesn’t include active sensing or much of a brain, but you could turn it into a surveillance platform by (literally) sticking a GoPro on it with a bunch of electrical tape.
Being self-contained does, at this point, involve a backpack full of miniature air compressors, battery, valves, and a controller, and all of these things are decidedly non-soft, which makes them destructible. So, the robot can survive fire and ice and water and being run over by a car, as long as those things just happen to one of its limbs, and not the electronics that it’s carrying around on its back. The total cost of all of the stuff comes out to just $1,111.
As we’ve speculated before (in reference to printable robots), there may be ways to remove many if not most of this hard and fragile stuff to make the robot even more resilient.
One weakness of the design presented here is the sensitivity of the exposed, rigid components at the center of the robot (compressors, valves, controller, batteries) to the conditions that typically challenge rigid robots (blunt impacts, applied pressures, and harsh environmental conditions). It may be possible to alleviate this weakness by distributing the rigid components over the body of the robot and encasing them in the soft body material. Another, more technically challenging option is to replace the rigid components with soft counterparts. This approach, however, requires significant breakthroughs in the development of soft electronics, batteries, and pumps. One promising option is to use passive soft components wherever possible (e.g., passive addressable valves).
JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN CREATE SUCH A THING, DOESN’T MEAN YOU SHOULD, GUYS.