New 3-D Printed, Soft, Combustion-powered Robot Whose Body Transitions from a Rigid Core to a Soft Exterior: Created by Harvard Scientists

3-D Printed, Soft, Combustion-powered Robot: Image extracted from video below

3-D Printed, Soft, Combustion-powered Robot: Image extracted from video below

About three years ago, Harvard scientists created systems that allowed soft robots to camouflage themselves, or stand out in their environment.

The following video presents Harvard researchers demonstrate soft robot camouflage system:

Having already broken new ground in robotics with the development, last year, of a class of “soft”, silicone-based robots based on creatures like squid and octopi, Harvard scientists are now working to create systems that would allow the robots to camouflage themselves, or stand out in their environment.

As described in a paper published August 16 in Science, a team of researchers led by George M. Whitesides, the Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor, has developed a “dynamic coloration” system for soft robots that might one day have applications ranging from helping doctors plan complex surgeries to acting as a visual marker to help search crews following a disaster.

In this video, Stephen Morin, a Post-Doctoral Fellow in Chemistry and Chemical Biology and first author of the paper, discusses the research and demonstrates how the system works.

Now, thanks to 3-D printing, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) created one of the first 3-D printed, soft robots that moves autonomously. It is a new solution to the engineering challenge of integrating rigid and soft materials.

3-D Printed, Soft, Combustion-powered Robot: photo/Harvard Microrobotics Lab

3-D Printed, Soft, Combustion-powered Robot: photo/Harvard Microrobotics Lab

The following video presents A 3-D Printed Functionally Graded Soft Robot:

SEAS researchers have built one of the first 3-D printed, soft robots that moves autonomously. The design offers a new solution to an engineering challenge that has plagued soft robotics for years: the integration of rigid and soft materials. This design combines the autonomy and speed of a rigid robot with the adaptability and resiliency of a soft robot and, because of 3-D printing, is relatively cheap and fast.


Roboticists have begun to design biologically inspired robots with soft or partially soft bodies, which have the potential to be more robust and adaptable, and safer for human interaction, than traditional rigid robots. However, key challenges in the design and manufacture of soft robots include the complex fabrication processes and the interfacing of soft and rigid components. We used multimaterial three-dimensional (3D) printing to manufacture a combustion-powered robot whose body transitions from a rigid core to a soft exterior. This stiffness gradient, spanning three orders of magnitude in modulus, enables reliable interfacing between rigid driving components (controller, battery, etc.) and the primarily soft body, and also enhances performance. Powered by the combustion of butane and oxygen, this robot is able to perform untethered jumping.

Editor’s Summary
Making jack jump efficiently

In the future, soft-bodied robots may be able to squeeze into tight spaces or work in environments where they could be crushed. However, it is hard to ensure efficient power transmission in a soft-bodied device. One promising solution is to use explosions to drive the robot, using efficient weight-to-power energy sources. Using three-dimensional printing to fuse together multiple materials, Bartlett et al. built a combustion-powered robot. The robot has a rigid core that transitions to a soft exterior. They produced an efficient jumping robot in which the gradations in the hardness of the body materials also improved robustness.

Science, this issue p. 161: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/349/6244/161.abstract?sid=9b29c497-dcba-4bee-b9c5-6d363400d672
A 3D-printed, functionally graded soft robot powered by combustion

  1. Nicholas W. Bartlett1,2,*,†,
  2. Michael T. Tolley3,†,
  3. Johannes T. B. Overvelde1,
  4. James C. Weaver2,
  5. Bobak Mosadegh4,
  6. Katia Bertoldi1,
  7. George M. Whitesides2,5,
  8. Robert J. Wood1,2
  1. *Corresponding author. E-mail: nbartlett@seas.harvard.edu
  1. These authors contributed equally to this work.

Science 10 July 2015:
Vol. 349 no. 6244 pp. 161-165
DOI: 10.1126/science.aab0129

Unlike its predecessors with gaits controlled by pumping air at up to 10 psi into a succession of limbs – inflating and deflating elastomer compartments – the new 3-D printed, soft robots are powered by combustion of butane and oxygen, and thus they are able to perform untethered jumping.

The following video presents Soft robots powered by combustion:

These flexible bots use small explosions to jump up to 2 meters. Read more: http://scim.ag/1MiMxtJ Read the research ($): http://scim.ag/1LU0OPo

Maybe the next-generation drone will be a combination of drone and soft robot, which could retract its propellers in order to hop, sprint and jump just like the above soft robot. What will these scientists/engineers think of next!?!