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Researchers Develop Tiny, Soft Multi-Functional Robot

Researchers from Wyss Institute at Harvard University created a soft robotic spider on the millimeter scale with micrometer-scale features for microsurgery and other procedures.

Animal-inspired robots could facilitate easy access to difficult natural and human-made environments. A team of researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and Boston University developed a robotic soft spider with an integrated fabrication process. The process enables the design of the robots on the millimeter scale with micrometer-scale features. The robot is inspired by the millimeter-sized colorful Australian peacock spider and is made from a single elastic material and possess features such as body-shaping, motion, and various colors. The research was published in Advanced Materials on August 06, 2018.

The Microfluidic Origami for Reconfigurable Pneumatic/Hydrolic (MORPH) devices created by the team was upgraded with a soft lithography technique to generate 12 layers of an elastic silicone that together constitute the soft spider’s material basis. Using a laser micromachining technique, each layer was precisely cut out of a mold and then bonded to the one below to create the rough 3D structure of the soft spider.

A pre-conceived network of hollow microfluidic channels that is integrated into individual layers was the key to transforming this intermediate structure into the final design. Pressurized one set of these integrated microfluidic channels with a curable resin from the outside was made using a third technique known as injection-induced self-folding. The technique induces individual layers and neighboring layers to locally bend into their final configuration. These layers fix in space when the resin hardens and the soft spider’s swollen abdomen and downward-curved legs become permanent features. The additional actuators of integrated microfluidic channels facilitated to colorize the eyes and simulate the abdominal color patterns of the peacock species. Moreover the actuators induce walking-like movements in the leg structures of the spider.