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Harvard Researchers Made a Robot Octopus That’s Completely Soft

Does everybody remember some version of Creepy Crawlers, the toy set that allowed you to squirt goop into bug-shaped molds, cook the “bugs” in an oven, and then pop them out in the most oddly satisfying way? If you do, then this video of the world’s first “entirely soft robot” being brought to life is probably going to be a bit of a blast from the past. But this little creature is way more advanced than anything we ever played with as kids, because it moves autonomously, and runs entirely on chemical reactions.

The entirely soft autonomous robot octopus, or “Octobot”—which was recently covered by TechCrunch—is an effort by researchers at Harvard to create a robot that uses only soft components, including soft onboard “circuit boards.” The abstract for the paper the researchers published in Nature, states that the Octobot is a proof of concept for “the untethered operation of a robot composed solely of soft materials… [and] controlled by microfluidic logic that autonomously regulates fluid flow and, hence, catalytic decomposition of an on-board monopropellant fuel supply.”

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This means that even though the Octobot is entirely soft, it doesn’t need to be linked to an off-board computer with normal rigid components in order to receive inputs and execute actions—something that many previous soft robots had to do. Instead, it uses soft logic gates that are powered by an onboard fuel source: the gas created from the reaction between hydrogen peroxide and a platinum catalyst.

Perhaps the coolest part about the Octobot, aside from its name, is the fact that the soft circuitry inside of it feeds back on itself, which means that it can pump fluid into its limbs and erect them in succession, all autonomously, and without rigid circuitry or a rigid power source (like a battery).

“This research demonstrates that we can easily manufacture the key components of a simple, entirely soft robot,” said Robert Wood, one of the authors of the study, in a Harvard news release. He added that this will lay “the foundation for more complex designs.” Which is fine, as long as they don’t make them look anything like Creepy Crawlers.

What do you think about this Octobot? Are you thrilled to see an entirely soft robot that seems to take its physiological cues from Kif from Futurama?! Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Images: Lori Sanders/Harvard University

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