Soft robots can be pneumatically powered and they can do things that hard metal robots can’t do. The video above shows the new knitted robots serving as assistive wearables and even as limbs for an autonomous moving robot.
Making soft robots usually involves rubber or silicone and molds or extrusion. 3-D printing is a popular method, too.
These robots are made with an industrial knitting machine like the machines that make knitted fabric for sweaters and T shirts.
The internal structure is provided by commercially available silicone tubes. The actuator is knitted with software which allows users to fine-tune the plan before creating the prototype. They used acrylic yarn, elastic yarn, and conductive thread of the kind used to knit the finger pads of gloves intended to allow wearers to use their phones out in cold weather without taking off their gloves.
MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), the source of the knitted robots, came up with an automatic knitting program a few years back. They also used smart textiles to create a wearable knitted keyboard and a knitted biosuit intended to evolve into a spacesuit. While Engadget headlined their report of this most recent development “Scientists ‘knit’ soft robotic wearables,” they are literally knitted.
The researchers note that using such a simple and established method as knitting should make the process of soft robot design and production much more accessible. They see assistive wearables and exoskeletons as practical applications in the near future.
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