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NASA to Develop Soft, 3D-Printed Robots13.05.2019

NASA has begun working on cutting-edge soft robots. The highly flexible designs, developed by researchers from the makerspace lab at NASA’s Langley Research Center, may prove highly helpful in space exploration missions. 

Soft robotics is a rather new field, which involves the study and development of robots made from highly flexible materials, similar to elastic tissues found throughout living organisms. Two engineers, James Neillan and Matt Mahlin, assisted by two interns, Chuck Sullivan and Jack Fitzpatrick, have been investigating this new technology on behalf of NASA. 

The designs developed by NASA researchers are based around actuators powered by air chambers, which collapse or expand depending on the volume of air inside. By adjusting the amount of gas in the soft actuator, the robot can flex or relax, just like a human muscle. Early designs presented by the Langley makerspace lab researchers have been created from highly-elastic silicone cast into 3D-printed moulds. 

The pioneering robots have been subject to a comprehensive battery of tests, which also investigated their potential space applications. The researchers claim that the soft robots’ increased mobility and range of motion, especially compared to traditional, metal-based designs, would greatly help them explore the surface of the Moon or Mars. Furthermore, the robots’ ability to link together and interlock into bigger assemblages could be harnessed to produce temporary shelter for human explorers. 

Beyond the Metal: NASA Investigating Soft Robots for Space Exploration
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