Have robots gone soft? Well…yes. In recent months the trend in the robotics field has shifted from the typical human-like, metal-based machines to so-called “soft robotics.” These new innovations are based on animals such as squids, octopuses, caterpillars and starfish. The idea is for the new robots to be flexible enough to fit through small spaces.
Further developments for these pliable neologisms have come from the University of California, Berkeley, in the form of a new hydrogel that flexes in response to light. Synthetic elastoproteins are fused with graphene sheets to absorb water when cooled and release it when heated. The graphene sheets, when shone with near-infrared light, generate heat.
The hydrogel has one side that is more porous than the other, so when the near-infrared light is introduced, the heated graphene causes the proteins to let more water out of one side than the other. This process makes the material bend. Did somebody say T-1000 ?