MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. -- While robots have moved from the realm of science fiction to a myriad of real-life uses, the potential of the "hard-bodied" robots of the 21st century remains limited by their stiff construction and lack of flexibility. A group of researchers at Tufts University has launched a multidisciplinary initiative focused on the science and engineering of a new class of robots that are completely soft-bodied. These devices will make possible advances in such far flung arenas as medicine and space exploration.
Barry Trimmer, professor of biology, and David Kaplan, professor of biomedical engineering, are co-directors of the Biomimetic Technologies for Soft-bodied Robots project, which represents a consortium of seven Tufts faculty members from five departments in the School of Engineering and the School of Arts and Sciences. The project has just been awarded a grant of $730,000 from the W.M. Keck Foundation.
According to Kaplan, the project will bring together biology, bioengineering and micro/nano fabrication. "Our overall goal is to develop systems and devices--soft-bodied robots--based on biological materials and on the adaptive mechanisms found in living cells, tissues and whole organisms," he explains. These devices, he notes, will have direct applications in robotics, such as manufacturing, emergency search and retrieval, and repair and maintenance of equipment in space; in medical diagnosis and treatment, including endoscopy, remote surgery, and prostheses design; and in novel electronics such as soft circuits and power supplies.
"A major characteristic that distinguishes man-made structures from biological ones is the preponderance of stiff materials," explains Trimmer. "In contrast, living systems may contain stiff materials such as bone and cuticle but their fundamental building blocks are soft and elastic. This distinction between biological and man-made objects is so pervasive that our evaluation o
Contact: Kim Thurler