In recent years, taking a simpler approach to science and engineering has paid off handsomely in certain fields. It's part of the reason there are now rovers exploring Mars, and many feel it will be the easiest way to make robots more commonplace. After all, what could be a simpler way to build an automaton than with stickers and tape?
Ryuma Niiyama from the University of Tokyo, working alongside several colleagues from MIT, has created a novel way to breathe life into not only simple robots, but everyday objects as well. The team has created a series of inflatable pouches that expand, contract, and bend when filled with air, and they can be used for everything from bringing a simple origami creation to life, to automatically closing drawers, to animating a simple robot without the need for motors or other complex electronics.
The inflatable pouches can be custom-made to any size using a CNC machine or even a basic 3D printer, and the only other thing they need to work is tubing and a constant supply of air. But that can be courtesy of a powered compressor, or a hand pump, it doesn't matter where the air comes from.
The researchers believe that simple robots made using these materials could perform very specific but useful tasks in a home, like folding laundry. And should they break, instead of taking them in for repairs, consumers could simply print a replacement pouch and have their bot working again in no time. [Free-Form Planar Actuators for Animated Objects via IEEE Spectrum]