Soft robots: MIT’s Technology that can alter Defence for the better

If you always thoughts robots had to be a pile of jangling metals, you might want to hold that thought right there! Pentagon and Harvard University have forecasted that the future for robotics is ‘soft and squishy’.

The two organizations have come together to research and formulate robots that are soft, cheap and can easily camouflage. These could essentially be used in defence apart from many other sectors.

For instance, a new soft robotic fish may easily befool somebody into thinking it is an animal. This is unique not in the way that it imitates an animal, but also is an advanced form of engineering. It is one of the growing affiliates of the family of soft robots. These essentially are made up of silicones and use fluids that pass through channels to make the devices function.

These are devoid of hinges unlike highly mechanized robots; these are bendable just about anywhere along their body, thus summing up more and more flexibility to the entire robotic structure. In defence, this could mean that the ease of movement not only becomes ‘undercover’ but also cheap.

The mechanism is given asunder:

A long channel is built into either side of the robot fish's tail. When the on-board processor orders the fish to move, carbon dioxide from a canister located in the abdomen of the fish moves into one channel. That expands the artificial artery, pushing the tail in the opposite direction. By alternating the pressure on either side of the tail, the fish swims. 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT), Andrew Marchese, a graduate student there ,was all at building the robotic fish. As assistants he was fortunate to have Daniela Rus and Cagdas Onal. 

This self-governed soft robot designed by MIT researchers, is able to carry out quick body movements. This striking feature enables the robot to break itself free from traps or nets just like an ordinary fish would do. 

A soft robot reduces the dangers that collisions bring in when it comes into contact with a human being – the softness rescues such forthcoming disasters.

"As robots penetrate the physical world and start interacting with people more and more, it's much easier to make robots safe if their bodies are so wonderfully soft that there's no danger if they whack you," Rus said.

Robots usually require a free path of travel where they are not expected to collide with any objects or humans. The advantage of soft robots lies here that they can deviate themselves to find the correct path of travel.

It was noticed during testing by Marchese that the duration of gas burnt determined the angle at which the fish would move; sometimes the turns could be very sharp something like 100 degrees. Also the diameter of the nozzle used determined the top speed of the robotic fish.

The fish is capable of bending continuously as it is devoid of any joints and is controlled by the continual flow of carbon dioxide that is pumped through channels present in its tail fin. It can achieve unimaginable spectrum of motion that is impossible for a hard robot.

For defence this is good news as this could bring in more sophisticated patterns of stealth technology that are necessary.

  "To be honest, that's not something I designed for. I designed for it to look like a fish, but we got the same inherent parameter decoupling that real fish have," Marchese said. 

The fish is just a proof of concept, and probably won’t be going deep-sea diving any time soon. But researchers imagine that it might be deployed with schools of real fish to observe their behavior. If that is so, then many sectors in the industry and particularly defence might want to take advantage of this.


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