Just Another Big Softy, But Now You See him, Now You Don’t

The new excitement on the block is that we have just another big softy, but now you see him, now you don’t.

Species from chameleons to squids have an interesting ability to change color to blend in with the background. Just the sort of ability many of us would have wished when we ended up somewhere either over-dressed or under-dressed.

Some while ago, Whitesides et al made a soft tetrapod that could lurch, crawl and undulate about the place like something you wouldn’t want to step on in poor light (1). It was tethered to its driver via pneumatics driving its fluid actuators deep in its silicone rubber body.

It is now a horse of a different color. It has developed a circulatory system and dyes can be pumped through its bendy body (2, 3). Not just plain dyes, but light sensitive dyes like fluorescent dyes or heat sensitive dyes.  There is local control of segment circuits so it can exhibit color patterns.

So we have a prototype soft, squidgy robot that can glow in the dark or hide in your cabbage patch and listen to the sweet nothings that you’re whispering in your neighbor’s shell-like auricular appendage.

This little beastie has a big advantage – it’s cheap. Even better, I would think it’s a great candidate for 3-D printing. But before we all rush out crying for our own squidgy tetrapod for Christmas, they still have to crack the external drive system and build the pneumatics into its body.

Computer control would clearly go hand in hand with that. The only thing that we have left to do is to define its mission statement so that it has a clear understanding of its place in the world. We don’t want to envision a future world with lots of cheap squidgy tetrapods running amok, changing color and causing trouble.

  1. http://www.pnas.org/content/108/51/20400.full.pdf+html
  2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-19286259
  3. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/337/6096/828.abstract

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