HP Tech@Work
Today's trends for tomorrow's business
The Softer Side of Robotics

The Softer Side of Robotics

Flexible, squishy and oh, so amazing!

Most robots are made of hard materials and are designed to be strong, fast and precise with their movements. But the inflexibility inherent in their designs limits the ways we can safely use and interact with them.
That’s why engineers and researchers have started exploring the possibilities of soft, flexible robots made of materials that are safer for humans to be around and can navigate unpredictable environments that other robots can’t.
These agile machines are often designed to mimic the biomechanics of animals and other things we find in nature, which is leading to some exciting new applications. Expect to be (literally) bumping into some of these cool new machines in the not-too-distant future.

Scientific exploration

Whether they’re swimming into the depths of the ocean or exploring the terrain of new planets, soft robots can travel to places we’ve never been before.

  • The Mars Rovers are well known, but what about the possibility of exploring gas giants? NASA is in the early stages of designing a soft-robotic rover that looks like a squid and can function without electricity or light sources, instead using its tentacles to harvest power from locally-changing magnetic fields. If it works, we may be able to start exploring gas giant moons such as Europa.
  • Looking for a safe way to explore elusive marine life up close, MIT researchers developed SoFi, a soft robotic fish that can swim to places divers and cameras can’t. It really looks like a fish, too, using an undulating tail to control its own buoyancy, and it can swim at depths of 50 feet for nearly an hour. Last year it captured some rare footage of sharks in the Arctic Ocean with - what else? - a fisheye lens.

Medicine

Soft robots moving around inside your body? The idea might give you the creepy-crawlies, but it could also save your life.
  • Researchers in Hong Kong have developed a “millirobot” that can deliver drugs to targeted parts of your body. With a multi-leg design that looks a lot like a caterpillar, the millirobot can carry loads 100 times heavier than itself and move efficiently through parts of the body that are full of mucus, blood or other liquids. Future plans include developing millirobots made of biodegradable materials that don’t need to be removed - they’ll simply decompose after they deliver your medicine.
  • Some people wear their heart on their sleeve - and others wear a robotic sleeve on their heart. Harvard biomedical engineers teamed up with Boston Children’s hospital to create a soft robot sleeve that fits around a cardiac patient’s heart and helps it pump, augmenting their own cardiovascular functions. It’s still in animal trials, but researchers hope the sleeve will someday help patients strengthen their heart muscles, particularly those waiting for heart transplants.

Search and rescue

Because soft robots can handle things delicately and squeeze into tight spaces humans can’t enter, they may be able to help disaster victims.
  • Seeing a big cockroach skittering your way sounds like a nightmare - but what if it was there to save you? A cockroach’s unique ability to navigate small spaces and general indestructibility is what inspired UC Berkeley researchers to design CRAM (short for “compressible robot with articulated mechanisms"). CRAM has a soft shell, a jointed exoskeleton, and it can withstand intense pressure - the perfect tool for exploring the debris of collapsed buildings and finding survivors.

Caregiving

With the world’s elderly population expected to double by 2050 - and not enough caregivers to help them - building robot caregivers is quickly becoming a medical priority.
  • Caregiving robots that ask a patient questions a nurse would ask and monitor patients for falls are already around. But what about ones that can touch and physically assist patients? Researchers at Purdue are using 3D printers to build what they call an architected soft machine (ASM). ASMs rely on miniaturized motors instead of muscles and can grip and crawl with ease; while they’re not as advanced as friendly caregiver Baymax from Big Hero 6, they show potential for the kinds of tactile interactions the elderly need.

Food handling and manufacturing

Could soft robots be part of the next industrial revolution? Factory workers can’t work alongside robots for fear of injury - but they may be able to soon.
  • Some food products, such as breads and pizza dough, are too delicate for standard robots to handle. But robots with a softer touch can touch and transport baked goods and other fragile foods without crushing them.
  • This newly-designed origami-inspired soft gripper can lift 120 times their own weight, handle fragile items like wine glasses, and can safely do its job next to human coworkers.
Have your own idea for a soft robot? Take it from initial design to prototyped reality with HP 3D printing technology.

Disclosure: Our site may get a share of revenue from the sale of the products featured on this page.

More about these products
Disclaimer

Prices, specifications, availability and terms of offers may change without notice. Price protection, price matching or price guarantees do not apply to Intra-day, Daily Deals or limited-time promotions. Quantity limits may apply to orders, including orders for discounted and promotional items. Despite our best efforts, a small number of items may contain pricing, typography, or photography errors. Correct prices and promotions are validated at the time your order is placed. These terms apply only to products sold by HP.com; reseller offers may vary. Items sold by HP.com are not for immediate resale. Orders that do not comply with HP.com terms, conditions, and limitations may be cancelled. Contract and volume customers not eligible.

HP’s MSRP is subject to discount. HP’s MSRP price is shown as either a stand-alone price or as a strike-through price with a discounted or promotional price also listed. Discounted or promotional pricing is indicated by the presence of an additional higher MSRP strike-through price

The following applies to HP systems with Intel 6th Gen and other future-generation processors on systems shipping with Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 Pro systems downgraded to Windows 7 Professional, Windows 8 Pro, or Windows 8.1: This version of Windows running with the processor or chipsets used in this system has limited support from Microsoft. For more information about Microsoft’s support, please see Microsoft’s Support Lifecycle FAQ at https://support.microsoft.com/lifecycle

Ultrabook, Celeron, Celeron Inside, Core Inside, Intel, Intel Logo, Intel Atom, Intel Atom Inside, Intel Core, Intel Inside, Intel Inside Logo, Intel vPro, Itanium, Itanium Inside, Pentium, Pentium Inside, vPro Inside, Xeon, Xeon Phi, Xeon Inside, and Intel Optane are trademarks of Intel Corporation or its subsidiaries in the U.S. and/or other countries.

In-home warranty is available only on select customizable HP desktop PCs. Need for in-home service is determined by HP support representative. Customer may be required to run system self-test programs or correct reported faults by following advice given over phone. On-site services provided only if issue can't be corrected remotely. Service not available holidays and weekends.

HP will transfer your name and address information, IP address, products ordered and associated costs and other personal information related to processing your application to Bill Me Later®. Bill Me Later will use that data under its privacy policy.

Microsoft Windows 10: Not all features are available in all editions or versions of Windows 10. Systems may require upgraded and/or separately purchased hardware, drivers, software or BIOS update to take full advantage of Windows 10 functionality. Windows 10 is automatically updated, which is always enabled. ISP fees may apply and additional requirements may apply over time for updates. See http://www.microsoft.com.

HP Rewards qualifying and eligible products/purchases are defined as those from the following categories: Printers, Business PCs (Elite, Pro and Workstation brands), select Business Accessories and select Ink, Toner & Paper.