Editorial Soft robotic S Among the most famous robots are the beloved Star Wars tasks, and to mimic the motion and function of biolog- characters R2D2 and C3PO, who are humanoid robots ical systems, such as human muscles or the locomotion (almost) perfectly capable of interacting with humans. of bacterial cells. The field strives to mimic nature by Soft robotics In the real world, robots now have key roles in indus- designing biology-inspired structures and by recre- is an emerging try and medicine, and the field of robotics is expected ating the way humans, animals and cells move. Soft field aiming to to play a major part in the 4th industrial revolution. and smart materials, such as ionotronic hydrogels and We have come a long way from giant industrial robots shape-memory polymers, are important in the design fabricate soft to tiny machines and devices that can help in surgery. of soft robots and their chemistry and manufacturing robots for close However, like R2D2 and C3PO, most current robots are are at the centre of current research efforts. Fabrication machine–human made of rigid components with pre-programmed tasks, technologies, such as 3D printing and origami folding, interactions making their application problematic once they operate have enabled the engineering of robots based on soft in close contact with or even in humans, or if they need materials and have opened opportunities for the imple- to autonomously navigate in complex environments, mentation of autonomic behaviours and sophisticated such as space or water. performance. Soft robotics is an emerging field aiming to fabri- Combined efforts of materials science, computational cate soft robots for close machine–human interactions. design and creative engineering have already led to the The soft nature allows the robots to adapt to their sur- development of origami robots that unfold and func- roundings, to perform different and even autonomous tion once they reach a specific environment, of small soft robots that can navigate in biological tissue to excise cells or deliver drugs, of inflatable robots that can exert force Credit: Paper Boat Creative to pick up objects and of exoskeletons and prostheses that can be worn to support or replace the function of human muscles. The ultimate goal is the integration of soft actuators, sensors, controls and power systems without any hard components using a single, low-cost fabrication pro- cess to design fully artificial, intelligent soft robots that can function as medical, assistive and wearable devices, that can work in space or within a human organ, that can replace muscles or even whole organs and that are capable to safely interact with humans. A number of challenges remain in the materials, engi- neering and design aspects of soft robots, but the great variety in soft materials, fabrication, design technologies and real-world applications of soft robots discussed in this Focus issue demonstrate that the stage is already set for a soft robotic future. We hope you enjoy read- ing these Research Highlights, Comments and Review articles on this topic. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41578-018-0017-8 na ture r eviews | Materials volume 3 | june 2018 | 71 © 2018 Macmillan Publishers Limited, part of Springer Nature. All rights reserved.
Nature Reviews Materials – Springer Journals
Published: May 25, 2018
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