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.


13 thoughts on “Soft Robotics, Silicone Rubber, And Amazing Castings

  1. Cool, just like Kif Kroker (or a penis I suppose). It seems to me if this was printed larger you could make it autonomous by installing an air pump and controller to operate it.

    1. As an ME undergrad: Nope. These rubber bodies have to compromise between strength and flexibility. We haven’t yet developed anything that can move around its own power plant, because every rubber body that’s flexible enough to move convincingly is too squishy to support significant weight. I think the next thing is integrating textiles into the structure, but I can’t say much more, lest my research plans get “scooped”.

      1. Well, hell, I guess it’s no great mystery that all of the big structural rubber components we ever see in daily life: Tires, hoses, etc. Are flexible composites, with fabric embedded in the rubber. There’s a reason for that. I’m not going to pretend it’s some great secret, though I’m *really* surprised the people already in the “soft robotics” crowd haven’t done too much with it.

    1. robot: (noun) a machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically, esp. one programmable by a computer.

      I think this qualifies. Toss in a few solenoids and the movement is now computer controlled. Moving forward without any “moving” parts is pretty complex by my definition.

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