This is Octobot. A squishy, silly-looking rubbery concoction made entirely from soft parts. This ‘robot’ does not need any wires or batteries, since it is powered by liquid fuel.

Octobot is made of silicone rubber, and measures approximately 2.5 inches wide and long. Regarding the purpose of this “autonomous machine,” the researchers behind it say it could be useful for environments where rigid machines cannot adapt to.

“Soft robots possess many attributes that are difficult, if not impossible, to achieve with conventional robots composed of rigid materials,” say researchers from Harvard University who created the robot.

“One long-standing vision for the field of soft robotics has been to create robots that are entirely soft, but the struggle has always been in replacing rigid components like batteries and electronic controls with analogous soft systems and then putting it all together,” said Robert Wood, the Charles River Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “This research demonstrates that we can easily manufacture the key components of a simple, entirely soft robot, which lays the foundation for more complex designs.”

The robot is controlled with microfluidic logic that autonomously regulates fluid flow and, hence, catalytic decomposition of an on-board monopropellant fuel supply.

Gas generated from the fuel decomposition inflates fluidic networks downstream of the reaction sites, resulting in actuation. The body and microfluidic logic of the robot are fabricated using moulding and soft lithography, respectively, and the pneumatic actuator networks, on-board fuel reservoirs and catalytic reaction chambers needed for movement are patterned within the body via a multi-material, embedded 3D printing technique, the researchers said.

The main idea here is the ability of soft robots to squirm their way past obstacles, as opposed to robots made from rigid parts, lacking this important factor. Their maneuverability make soft autonomous machines ideal for rescue missions.

 “Our integrated design and rapid fabrication approach enables the programmable assembly of multiple materials within this architecture, laying the foundation for completely soft, autonomous robots,” they added.