Soft robots they still rely on hard electronics to make it work, but a new invention could reduce the need for unyielding chips. Researchers from UC Riverside have developed a pneumatic computer memory they used to help a soft robot play the piano.
Instead of conventional transistors and electrical circuits, “air-driven” memory relies on microfluidic valves to control air flow. Atmospheric pressure in a given valve is binary “0”, while vacuum is “1”. The researcher’s memory has a complex enough array of these valves to function like an 8-bit RAM chip – not very powerful, but good enough that a pair of soft robot-hands can slowly play “Mary had a Little Lamb” at a steady pace.
The absence of positive pressure makes this particularly safe – there is no danger of the memory exploding during use.
The technology is far from ready for everyday use. In addition to the necessary complexity and speed improvements, the robot will also need soft versions of the processor and other components to completely eliminate the need for rigid electronics. The goal, however, is clear. Pneumatic memory could at least reduce the need for chips in soft robots and points to the future of fully flexible robotics that shouldn’t hurt you if a collision occurs.
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