Imagine a biomimetic robot that can inflate itself, bend at odd angles, and channel liquids through itself in any direction. That’s what scientists at Harvard University have created. By using squishy little Lego blocks with channels built-in, a team at Harvard has created robots can move like slugs or snakes. For example, when you close the channels the robots expand and move and when you open them you can pump liquids through in various configurations, thereby allowing you to reconfigure a robot’s motions on the fly.
Created by George Whitesides and his team, the robots aren’t quite ready for the mass market. However, because they can be cheaply made using a 3D printer and some flexible plastic and because the stick together so well, you could feasibly make a squishy trunk-like robot, a robotic (but squishy) arm, or even a squishy circulatory system. And, because they snap in and out, you can simply swap out entire systems in a second.
The team wrote about the project in the journal Advanced Materials and they foresee a day when a robot could reconfigure itself by swapping out its own parts. I, for one, welcome our squishy robotic overlords.