Think robots are all square corners and rigid metal parts? Think again. Two interns at NASA are part of a larger group working on “soft robots” that could be used for exploring worlds beyond Earth. This includes the moon, NASA’s next major destination for astronauts.
The advantage of a soft robot is that it’s flexible and, in some ways, better able to adapt to new environments. Soft robots move in ways similar to living organisms, which expands their range of motion, perhaps making it easier to squeeze into a tight spot, for example.
Interns Chuck Sullivan and Jack Fitzpatrick are working at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, to create soft robot actuators. (Actuators are machine components that control a robot’s moving parts.) “When you actuate the soft robot, it changes how you use the material properties,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement. “A piece of rubber going from flat to the shape of a finger, it changes the material into something else.”