A team of researchers from Bristol’s Faculty of Engineering have successfully demonstrated a new way of embedding computation into soft robotic materials.
According to the research team, this development has brought life-like robots closer to becoming a reality.
The development could create new robotic possibilities, which could see bots deployed in environmental monitoring, pollution clean-up, drug delivery, prosthetic devices, wearable biosensing and self-healing composites, according to scientists.
Professor of Robotics Jonathan Rossiter, who led the study, said: “We have taken an important step toward entirely soft, autonomous robots and for smart materials to move beyond stimulus-response relationships, which could enable the intelligent behaviours seen in living organisms.
“Soft robots could become even more life-like; capable of independently adapting to their environment and can demonstrate the diversity of behaviours seen in the natural world.”
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Taking inspiration from biology, the concept of Soft Matter Computers (SMCs) aims to mimic the workings of the vascular system, where hormones, such as adrenaline, are released into the bloodstream and disperse throughout the body.
When detected by a receptor, hormones then trigger responses in particular parts of the body, such as increased blood flow in flight muscles, and dilation of the pupils in the eyes.
In the paper, the team explain how a conductive fluid receptor (CFR) is a viable and fundamental building block for a range of SMCs and next-generation robots.
In the future, soft matter computers could mirror this process by translating information within the structure of a fluidic tape that travels through the soft body of the robot, and then is detected by an appropriate receptor and generates an output.