32C3: My Robot Will Crush You With Its Soft Delicate Hands!

In his talk at 32C3 [Matthew Borgatti] talked both about his company’s work with NASA toward developing robotic spacesuits and helping people with Cerebral Palsy better control their limbs. What do these two domains have in common? “One-size fits all pneumatic exoskeletons.”

[Matthew] makes a tremendously compelling case for doing something new and difficult in robotics — making robotic systems out of squishy, compliant materials. If you think about it, most robots are hard: made of metal and actuated by motors and gears, cables, or (non-compressible) pneumatic fluid. If you want to build suits that play well with soft and squishy people, they’ll need at least a layer of softness somewhere.

But [Matthew]’s approach is to make everything soft. In the talk, he mentions a few biological systems (octopus arms and goat’s feet) that work exactly because they’re soft. Why soft? Because soft spreads force around automatically and accommodates uneven terrain. And this makes it easier on the people who wear robotic suits and on the designers of the robots who don’t need to worry about the fine detail of the ground they’re walking on.

The talk ended up being very short, but there’s a fantastic Q&A at the end. It’s a must-see. And if you can’t get enough of [Matthew] or squishy robots, we’ve covered his robots before and he even had an entry in the Hackaday Prize.

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