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Tiny pneumatic actuator makes soft robots practical

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Soft robots that bend and stretch are cool concepts, but there's usually a lot of clunky hardware involved to make them work, like air compressors and gas generators. They're seldom practical in real life. However, Okayama University researchers have developed a tiny pneumatic actuator that should make those squishy automatons viable. The machinery changes pressure by turning water into hydrogen and oxygen (through a catalyst) in a matter of seconds, and reversing that process about as quickly. All it needs to get going is some electricity -- it doesn't require moving parts or vents, and it's effectively silent.

It's not certain how much progress scientists have made. They first wrote about the concept two years ago, and a recent demo video (below) only shows that it works, not that there's been significant development. If this advances further, though, you could see soft robots that look less like big blobs and more like the slick, flexible devices they're meant to be.

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