One of the slower weeks for robotics investments I’ve seen since I started doing this roundup. This stuff ebbs and flows, though, and there’s always bound to be a bit of a flurry at the beginning of the year. This week, most of the top news revolves around research, which, let’s be honest, is where most of the really fun stuff happens, anyway.
The other week, I spent a couple of paragraphs talking about why soft robots are interesting and important, but of course, they have their limitations. Like everything else in tech, choosing one version has its plusses and minuses. In the pro column, you can have additional compliance and flexibility. But one of the trade-offs is conductivity.
Some clever new research out of Carnegie Mellon University applies micrometer-sized silver flakes to soft materials like hydrogels, creating what the team likens to, “a second layer of nervous tissue over your skin.” Soft robotics created in this matter could eventually be used for medical purposes, including treatments for stroke patients and people suffering from tremors related to Parkinson’s.
Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems published its own soft robotics research this week, alongside Seoul National University and Harvard University. Like a lot of the work in the category, the team is focused on a model inspired by marine life. Here we’re looking at a robotic fish that adjusts its undulation based on the water around it. It’s some interesting insight into how fish move and could be useful in producing soft underwater robots, going forward.
Researchers at MIT, meanwhile, are exploring the proper placement of sensors on soft robotics to help give them a better picture of their environment. This points to another issue with soft robotics: their compliance means they often have a more difficult time determining moving based on their environment. So the team has devised a neural network that could optimize sensor placement.
There is still some robotics investment news this week. Fort Robotics made some waves with a $13 million raise. Unlike a lot of the recent rounds we’ve looked at, the Philadelphia company has a software focus. Specifically, it develops a layer for robotic systems designed to help keep companies safe from a wide range of different issues, from cybersecurity to system failure.
Pieter Abbeel, the director of UC Berkeley’s Robot Learning Lab, has been onstage for a few of our annual TC Sessions: Robotics event. He reached out to let us know that he’s just launched an interview series about AI and robotics that will no doubt be a worthwhile listen, if you’re interested at all in the category.