VIDEO: The 3D-printed robot with a hard heart and soft body

The robot is capable of more than 30 untethered jumps and is powered by a mix of butane and oxygen.
Image: UC San Diego/Harvard University

Engineers have created the first robot with a 3D-printed body with a rigid core anda soft exterior.

The robot is capable of more than 30 untethered jumps and is powered by a mix of butane and oxygen.

Researchers from Harvard University and the University of California, San Diego, describe the robot’s design, manufacturing and testing in the latest issue of Science magazine.

See it in action:

“We believe that bringing together soft and rigid materials will help create a new generation of fast, agile robots that are more robust and adaptable than their predecessors and can safely work side by side with humans,” says Michael Tolley, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at UC San Diego.

The idea of blending soft and hard materials into the robot’s body came from nature. Some sea mussels have a foot which starts out soft and then becomes rigid at the point where it makes contact with rocks.

“In nature, complexity has a very low cost,” Tolley says. “Using new manufacturing techniques like 3D printing, we’re trying to translate this to robotics.”

The researchers hope their work will allow rigid components to be better integrated within soft robots, which will then move faster without compromising the safety of humans who work with them.

In the latest robot, rigid layers make for a better interface with the device’s electronic brains and power sources. The soft layers make it less vulnerable to damage when it lands after jumping.

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