Octopus Inspires World's First Soft, Autonomous Robot

It's cheap to 3-D print, moves under its own power—and doesn't hurt if it bumps into you. Meet octobot, herald of a robotics revolution.

Banish your preconceptions of robots as stiff, herky-jerky metal machines. An “octobot” less than three inches wide is changing the robotics landscape.

The octobot is the world’s first completely soft, autonomous, and untethered robot. It is free of wires, batteries, and any hard material—like its namesake, the octopus, which has no internal skeleton.

A Harvard University research team led by engineering professors Robert Wood and Jennifer Lewis tried more than 300 designs before they came up with one that worked. And now the octobot could revolutionize the use of robots. Traditional robots are “fantastic for what they do in terms of automation, but they’re not geared toward human interaction,” Wood says. Soft robots provide a safer solution: “If they run into something, it’d be like bumping into a basketball. It won’t hurt you.”

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