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Why Robots That Bend Are Better

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Shared February 18, 2021

Robots of the future may be softer, squishier and bendier than robots today. This could make them ideal for space exploration. Check out for 50% off your first month of any subscription!

On Thursday February 18th, 2021 the NASA Perseverance Rover will land on Mars. It is a wonderful robot, made out of steel and wire — but will future robots look like Perseverance? There is an emerging field of research on "soft robots", where the machines are flexible. These soft robots have many advantages over traditional robots — they're safer, lighter, more flexible and can change their shape and size.

NASA is investigating the use of soft robots for space missions. For future visits to Enceladus or Europa, a lander could cut a hole in the ice and then insert a compliant robot through the hole. This robot could then grow and change shape on the other side.

N. S. Usevitch, Z. M. Hammond, M. Schwager, A. M. Okamura, E. W. Hawkes, S. Follmer, An untethered isoperimetric soft robot. Sci. Robot. 4, — paper about the truss robot — press release and video about the truss robot

Electronics-free pneumatic circuits for controlling soft-legged robots
Dylan Drotman1, Saurabh Jadhav, David Sharp, Christian Chan, Michael T. Tolley Sci. Robot. 6, eaay2627 (2021) — paper about the turtle robot

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Video supplied by Getty Images

Thanks to Zachary Hammond for showing me the soft truss robot
Filmed by Derek Muller
Edited and GFX by Trenton Oliver
Animation by Ivan Tello
Music by Jonny Hyman
Thumbnail by Ignat Berbeci, Dan Meyer