Next Big Thing

Soft Robots, Strong Technology Oct 10, 2014

Noosphere Ventures is looking to the future and excited about where humanity will be. But it realizes that soon we may not be alone. More and more, robots are becoming a regular part or most people’s lives.

Anyone who has watched Lost in Space is aware of the traditional view of the robots of the future – big, bullet-proof, garbage cans with metal claws. But as engineers have started to find practical uses for robots they have found that, like people, robots generally work better when they have a more gentle feel to them. This shift from hard and rigid materials to soft, flexible ones is getting a lot of attention from the biggest players in the robotics market.

It makes sense really. There really is no reason that an earthquake victim would need to be rescued by a pair or metal tongs. Pneubotics co-founder Saul Griffith envisions a soft, flexible robot that more closely resembles an octopus than an assembly line crane could safely carry the victim to safety.

And as the applications of robotic continue to grow, so does the argument for these soft servants. Japan is well aware that its aging population will soon be hard pressed to provide adequate care for senior citizens and several companies are banking of the fact that robots will be used to pick up the slack.

To ensure the care of the patients, not only do robots need to be gentle enough so that people are not hurt by then, but also built in a way that people are not hurt on them.

This requires that robots go a step beyond a solid skeleton rapped in padding. Pneubotics is also working on radically different designs that don’t use rigid components. One suck example is the Ant-Roach which uses fabric muscles that are able to contract into specific shapes with fabric actuators. This creates a very light robot which can carry almost 15 times it’s own weight while remaining soft and safe enough that children can play with it.

Noosphere Ventures is eager to share our world with these little helpers. Whether they will be saving lives, augmenting our lifestyles, or handling hazardous materials, many researchers are creating the tools to make this ride on the technology train just a little bit softer.