Shape Programmable Matter is More Magnetic Magic

How could you build an artificial tadpole? Or simulate the motion of a cilium? Those would be hard to do with mechanical means — even micromechanical because of their fluid motion. Researchers have been studying shape-programmable matter: materials that can change shape based on something like heat or magnetic field. However, most research in this area has relied on human intuition and trial and error to get the programmed shape correct. They also are frequently not very fast to change shape.

[Metin Sitti] and researchers at several institutions have found a way to make rapidly changing silicone rubber parts (PDF link) that can change shape due to a magnetic field. The method is reproducible and doesn’t seem out of reach for a hackerspace or well-equipped garage lab.

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Soft Robotics, Silicone Rubber, And Amazing Castings

Most of the robotics projects we see around here are heavy, metallic machines that move with exacting precision with steppers, servos, motors, and electronics. [Matthew] is another breed of roboticist, and created a quadruped robot with no hard moving parts.

[Matthew] calls his creation the Glaucus, after the blue sea slug Glaucus atlanticus. Inside this silicone rubber blob are a series of voids, allowing compressed air to expand the legs, gently inching Glaucus across a table under manual or automatic control.

Even though no one seems to do it, making a few molds for casting on a 3D printer is actually pretty easy. [Matthew] is taking this technique to an extreme, though: First, a mold for the interior pressure bladders are printed, then a positive of this print made in silicone rubber. These silicone molds – four of them, for the left, right, top and bottom – are then filled with wax, and the wax parts reassembled inside the final ‘body’ mold. It’s an amazing amount of work to make just one of these soft robots, but once the molds and masters are made, [Matthew] can pop out a soft robot every few hours or so.

There’s a lot more info on Glaucus over on the official site for the build, and a somewhat simpler ‘compressed air and silicone rubber’ tentacle [Matthew] built showing off the mechanics. Video below.


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