Future robots won’t be limited to the human form, like Boston Robotics’ backflipping Atlas.
They’ll be invisibly embedded everywhere in commonly used objects, such as a shoe that can intelligently support your gait, change stiffness as you’re running or walking, and adapt to different forms of surfaces – or even help you do back flips
That’s the vision of researchers at Oregon State University, the University of Colorado, Yale University, and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, who describe the burgeoning new field of “material robotics” in a perspective article published Nov. 29, 2017 in Science Robotics.
Disappearing into the background of everyday life
The authors challenge a widespread basic assumption: that robots are either “machines that run bits of code” or “software ‘bots’ interacting with the world through a physical instrument.”
“We take a third path: one that imbues intelligence into the very matter of a robot,” says Oregon State University researcher Yiğit Mengüç, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering in OSU’s College of Engineering and part of the college’s Collaborative Robotics and Intelligent Systems Institute.
On that path, materials scientists are developing new bulk materials with the inherent multifunctionality required for robotic applications, while roboticists are working on new material systems with tightly integrated components, disappearing into the background of everyday life. “The spectrum of possible approaches spans from soft grippers with zero knowledge and zero feedback all the way to humanoids with full knowledge and full feedback”.
For example, “In the future, your smartphone may be made from stretchable, foldable material so there’s no danger of it shattering,” says Mengüç. “Or it might have some actuation, where it changes shape in your hand to help with the display, or it can be able to communicate something about what you’re observing on the screen. All these bits and pieces of technology that we take for granted in life will be living, physically responsive things, moving, changing shape in response to our needs, not just flat, static screens.”