Innovation Watch: Spider Robots!?

A new manufacturing process is allowing scientists to produce tiny, soft robots to a scale of millimetres. The process opens the doors for microsurgery and other procedures. Then they went and used it to create spider robots. Urgh.

As you’ll all no doubt be aware, small soft robots are typically simple with just one point of articulation. That’s small soft robots 101 and it’s limited to the potential use of this technology. If only someone could come along and fix that.

Well, the human race is in luck because teams at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and Boston University have done just that. The researchers have developed an “integrated fabrication process that enables the design of soft robots on the millimeter scale with micrometer-scale features.”

They demonstrated the tech by creating a tiny robot spider based on the tiny Australian peacock spider. Because the world wasn’t scary enough. Sheila Russo, Ph.D., co-author of the study, describes it best: “By developing a new hybrid technology that merges three different fabrication techniques, we created a soft robotic spider made only of silicone rubber with 18 degrees of freedom, encompassing changes in structure, motion, and colour, and with tiny features in the micrometre range.”

It started us thinking about what these fantastic robots might be used for in marketing. Beyond the incredible scope of medical uses, we can see a future where all our stand builds are handled by tiny armies of programmable robots. Or perhaps we could use them to build tiny-mock ups of stands to bring brain storms and pitches to life. We’re probably getting ahead of ourselves here but it’s hard not to get excited thinking about the applications.

One thing we do know for sure: when we do get advanced tiny robots they absolutely not going to be designed after spiders.

Image Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University