The Minichanism that Swims into our Hearts (Maybe Literally)

By: Dubem M.

Recently, Harvard announced its newest invention: “the octobot” they called it. The little minichanism is a small autonomous robot that like its namesake, the octopus, has no hard component. Though it can only do a grand total of waving to you eight times simultaneously, it marks the advent of a whole new type of robotics all together. One that seems awfully cute, and yes, it is waterproof if you were wondering.

What does it do?

So far the robot is a very simple creation. It is able to move its arms….and that’s about it. Some of the variations of the robot do glow in the dark though. Researchers and inventors are hoping to make its ability range much larger but for now that’s all it can do…

How did they make it?

The octobot’s anatomy was designed very closely to that of a real life octopus. Since an octopus’ anatomy worked so well, there was no real reason to change it drastically. It was 3D printed using an amalgam of embedded 3D printing, moulding and soft lithography. By focusing on its mobility and flexibility rather than durability and strength, the creators were “building its muscles instead of its bones.” Essentially it is a “malleable plastic” that has veins for its “blood” to flow through and move its limbs.

How does it work?

The miniscule robot is powered by an internal chemical reaction (like living organisms). The (not so) metal octopus is powered by pressurised gas, which makes it a pneumatic-based system. It is still quite slow and simple but it is able to move its arms and move about. Its “brain” is controlled with “microfluidic logic circuit” that controls where the fluids that fuel the arms flow. While I was inspecting the logic circuit and its reservoirs of fuel, it dawned on me how similar the composition of the circuit was and that of a human heart. Like a heart, it has chambers. The only difference is that the octobot has two red and blue reservoirs of “blood” rather than one that travels through its body.

What does that mean for the future?

The idea of soft robotics opens a whole new field of possibilities for the future. For example, imagine a washing machine that can stretch to accommodate more clothing? Or a car will bounce during a car crash preventing injury to the passengers inside due to its supple body. Additionally, this takes a grand step towards nanotechnology. Giving a machine the possibility to travel throughout the body autonomously seems like something out of a sci-fi movie but it is now a viable possibility.

The octobot isn’t necessarily the much powerful, or sleek machine (though in my opinion it may be the prettiest) however its power lies in its potential to grow and to become something incredibly useful. The realms of science that this tiny robot opens is more than any metal robot could open even if they had eight arms.




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