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Hard questions for soft robotics

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Science Robotics  28 Apr 2021:
Vol. 6, Issue 53, eabg6049
DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.abg6049

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Abstract

The establishment of a new academic field is often characterized by a phase of rapid growth, as seen over the last decade in the field of soft robotics. However, such growth can be followed by an equally rapid decline if concerted efforts are not made by the community. Here, we argue that for soft robotics to take root and have impact in the next decade, we must move beyond “soft for soft’s sake” and ensure that each study makes a meaningful contribution to the field and, ideally, to robotics and engineering more broadly. We present a three-tiered categorization to help researchers and reviewers evaluate work and guide studies toward higher levels of contribution. We ground this categorization with historical examples of soft solutions outside of robotics that were transformative. We believe that the proposed self-reflection is essential if soft robotics is to be an impactful field in the next decade, advancing robotics and engineering both within and beyond academia and creating soft solutions that are quantitatively superior to the current state of the art—soft, rigid, or otherwise.

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