Soft Robot Background
A Google search of "soft robots" brings up a lot of hits for any robot that gets covered in protective foam or the like, we use "soft robots" as a term meaning robots constructed without rigid members. Most robotic projects are built with frames of metal, plastic or composites and are powered by electric motors, solenoids or sometimes pneumatic systems. Soft robots are just that, they contain mainly flexible rubber like substances and the only ones that we have seen so far are powered by pneumatics. The state of the art seems to be silicon castings into 3D printed molds.
There is not a wealth of information available about these devices nor is there any screaming need they seem to be filling. They do look to be fun and therein lies their allure. Given the lack of definition or purpose, we have compiled this list of explorers to be able to state "we're doing things like they're doing."
Three groups dominate the material that can be found on soft robotics:
Harvard Whitesides Research Group
These people make soft pneumatic starfish and creepy crawlers. They host a website HERE with an overview and video of some of their work. You can also learn about their work in a video report by Rueters.
Harvard SEAS - Robotic Tentacles
A team at Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences has published several papers and videos including:
Robotic Tentacles with Three-Dimensional Mobility Based on Flexible Elastomers a 8 page overview of the research and construction methods of their robots.
Supporting Information: Robotic Tentacles with Three-Dimensional Mobility Based on Flexible Elastomers is a more in depth look at how the team created their robots.
This YouTube video of the robot grabbing a plastic horseshoe.
Not knowing Harvard's ins and outs, this may be the same as the Whitesides group, but, they seem to be seperate and so we list them seperately.
Matthew Borgatti host a large number of pages (9 at the time of writing!) that detail the construction of his soft robots. He has created things ranging from tube to a gecko. His website is http://har.ms/projects/soft-robots/
Between all of these, there are a lot a inspirational video that lead us to our own take on soft robots. Unfortunately, the manufacturing techniques described by the experimenters above are beyond our kitchen laboratory, but undaunted we plug forward.