Is this weird-looking soft-bodied robot an early version of the one that might one day help find people trapped in collapsed buildings?
Harvard roboticists are working on a soft, untethered robot that keeps operating through fire, water, crushing force and freezing conditions. So far, they have gotten the two-foot-long machine to operate without external power connections for two hours.
To endure through the elements, the pliable body was made of a composite of silicone, fabric and hollow glass microspheres and contains no rigid structural elements. Along with surviving tough conditions, it successfully demonstrated an important ability—lifting the mini air compressors, compressed gas, valves, batteries and controller off the ground and moving with all the components it needs to be autonomous.
"Robots intended for use outside of laboratory environments should be able to operate without the constraints of a tether," the engineers write in a report on their machine in the journal Soft Robotics. “This is especially true for robots intended to perform demanding tasks in challenging environments (for example, for search and rescue applications in unstable rubble).”