Soft-bodied robotic “spiders” could pave the way for microsurgery

By Marina Wang

Draw up an image of a robot, and you’d probably get the likes of boxy R2D2 or C3PO, but a team of researchers are creating tiny, soft-bodied, spider-shaped robots. The team, from Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, modelled their prototype after the Australian peacock spider and hope their method might be used to create tiny robots useful in microsurgery.

As opposed to their hard-bodied, rigid counterparts, soft bodied robots made with materials such as silicon can navigate unpredictable or varied environments—like inside the human body. Centimeter-sized soft robots have been made before, but the researcher’s method allows for an unprecedented degree of movement and control.

The devices that the researchers pioneered is called MORPH, or Microfluidic Origami for Reconfigurable Pneumatic/Hydrolic, which combine small-scale laser printing, micromachining, and folding. The spider prototype was made by laminating 12 different layers of elastic silicone that are embedded with a network of channels or chambers. Fluids can then be used to pressurize select chambers and channels to dictate movement and structure.

“This robot is a first demonstration of the manufacturing capabilities that this process enables, and we believe it will pave the way to a new generation of soft micro robots that can exploit their small scale and deformable and resilient bodies to explore highly unstructured and complex environments for applications,” wrote Tommaso Ranzani, an engineering professor at Boston University.

The researchers modelled their prototype after the Australian peacock spider because its physique embodied the challenges the researchers were trying to overcome. “It is less than a centimeter wide, has features down to the micrometer-scale, a well-defined three-dimensional structure, and a large number of independently controllable degrees of freedom,” wrote Ranzani. “In addition, it is characterized by beautiful color patterns. We saw here an opportunity to demonstrate the advanced capabilities of our manufacturing process.”

Ranzani’s morphable biorobotics lab at Boston University continues to explore the potential of soft-robotics. “Soft robots could potentially navigate the human anatomy safely, reach remote locations in the body, and perform medical procedure in a less invasive way,” wrote Ranzani.

One Response to Soft-bodied robotic “spiders” could pave the way for microsurgery

  1. nonconfidencevote says:

    Just when my nightmares about spiders FINALLY went away…………

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.