Soft robotics are coming! According to this overview in Nature, a number of new soft robotics projects are coming to fruition. These projects — often inspired by biological creatures like cephalopods and caterpillars — are able to accomplish feats difficult for rigid machines, such as grasping different objects without special programming and fitting into hard-to-access locations.
This work builds off work not only in materials science — where researchers work to develop plastics and other polymer materials that have the right amount of strength and flexibility — but also off innovations in sensors. As the article notes, materials that can be deformed flexibly need flexible sensors to report data on positions and pressures.
In April, the first soft-robotics challenge will take place in Livorno. I am super excited to see where soft robotics goes and how people to react to them. I would love to take my robot swimming ... and have it hold my hand.