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Mollusk-inspired robot will hunt you down one hop at a time

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A team of Harvard and UC San Diego scientists believes the perfect robot is neither rigid nor soft -- instead, it's a combination of both. To prove that, the group (led by Michael Tolley from UCSD and Nicholas Bartlett from Harvard) has created a hybrid robot capable of over 30 untethered jumps without breaking into pieces. It's also faster than completely squishy ones, which are typically slow. The top half composed of nine layers 3D printed in one piece has a soft exterior that gradually becomes more rigid as you get to the inner core. On the other hand, the bottom's entirely flexible, with a cavity where you can inject a mixture of butane and oxygen. After being ignited, the gases swell and cause the robot to jump.

These two halves protect a rigid inner compartment, where you can find the machine's circuit board and power source, among other components -- and they sure did a great job during testing. In fact, the robot successfully hopped two-and-a-half feet high and half a foot forward for more than 100 times, as well as fell to the floor 35 times from a height of four-and-a-half-feet in the laboratory. The rigid version it was pitted against quickly shattered.

If you're wondering, Tolley and Bartlett got their inspiration from nature, including a species of mussel with a soft foot that hardens when it touches rocks. Tolley said machines created using both soft and rigid materials could lead into a new breed of "fast, agile robots that are more robust and adaptable than their predecessors [that] can safely work side by side with humans."

[Image credit: UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering/Flickr]

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