Rebecca Vineyard
August 26, 2016 2:56 pm
Lori Sanders/ Harvard University

The world’s first completely soft robot has just been introduced, and it’s modeled after an octopus, meaning this robot is an octobot, and we’re in love. In case you didn’t know, squishy robots are a thing, and they’re really, really cool.

Researchers at Harvard University developed the octobot, which was created by a combination of embedded 3D printing, molding, and lithography and is the first truly soft robot. Previous soft robots have always required rigid battery packs or wires, meaning they either weren’t completely soft, or had to be attached to a power source.

The octobot, however, is totally autonomous — meaning that it can power itself. It’s not powered by a battery, but ratherby a chemical reaction and a really simple one, at that.

Valves and switches powered by a circuit control the flow of hydrogen peroxide — they would be inside the octobot’s brain, if it had one. When the hydrogen peroxide hits a catalyst (here it’s small pieces of platinum) it becomes a gas, and that gas powers the tentacles.

The hydrogen peroxide is actually the key to keeping the octobot soft: “The wonderful thing about hydrogen peroxide is that a simple reaction between the chemical and a catalyst — in this case platinum — allows us to replace rigid power source,” says Michael Wehner, a post-doctoral fellow and co-first author of the paper published in the journal Nature.

While octobot is presently only capable of twitching its legs, it’s also serving as an inspiration. By showing that a completely soft, totally autonomous robot is possible, the Harvard researchers behind the many-armed creature have shown that the potential of soft robots — from performing surgery to being used in rescue missions — is pretty much endless.