Research ArticleSOFT ROBOTS

A soft matter computer for soft robots

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Science Robotics  21 Aug 2019:
Vol. 4, Issue 33, eaaw6060
DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.aaw6060


Despite the growing interest in soft robotics, little attention has been paid to the development of soft matter computational mechanisms. Embedding computation directly into soft materials is not only necessary for the next generation of fully soft robots but also for smart materials to move beyond stimulus-response relationships and toward the intelligent behaviors seen in biological systems. This article describes soft matter computers (SMCs), low-cost, and easily fabricated computational mechanisms for soft robots. The building block of an SMC is a conductive fluid receptor (CFR), which maps a fluidic input signal to an electrical output signal via electrodes embedded into a soft tube. SMCs could perform both analog and digital computation. The potential of SMCs is demonstrated by integrating them into three soft robots: (i) a Softworm robot was controlled by an SMC that generated the control signals necessary for three distinct gaits; (ii) a soft gripper was given a set of reflexes that could be programmed by adjusting the parameters of the CFR; and (iii) a two–degree of freedom bending actuator was switched between three distinct behaviors by varying only one input parameter. SMCs are a low-cost way to integrate computation directly into soft materials and an important step toward entirely soft autonomous robots.

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