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All hail Octobot! Harvard debuts adorable 3D-printed soft robot

Harvard researchers build a tentacled little robot made entirely of flexible parts. No electronics needed.

Not all robots are metal monstrosities with unchecked artificial intelligence that could jeopardize mankind's future. Meet Octobot, a 3D-printed autonomous soft robot out of Harvard crafted exclusively of flexible parts.

Harvard calls Octobot "the first autonomous, entirely soft robot." Its squishy-looking tentacles wiggle and dance thanks to a microfluidics-controlled chemical reaction that turns hydrogen peroxide into gas that flows into the octobot's arms, inflating them like a balloon. The tentacled robot is inspired by real-life octopi.

Because of their flexibility, soft robots hold certain advantages over their rigid counterparts. But until now, they've relied on hard components in one way or another. Not Octobot.

"The struggle has always been in replacing rigid components like batteries and electronic controls with analogous soft systems and then putting it all together," Robert Wood of Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering said in a statement. "This research demonstrates that we can easily manufacture the key components of a simple, entirely soft robot, which lays the foundation for more complex designs."

This week the Harvard researchers published a paper called "An integrated design and fabrication strategy for entirely soft, autonomous robots" in the journal Nature that features their findings on flexible robotics.

"This research is a proof of concept," Ryan Truby, a graduate student in Harvard's Lewis lab and co-author of the paper, said. "We hope that our approach for creating autonomous soft robots inspires roboticists, material scientists and researchers focused on advanced manufacturing."

Next up, the Harvard team hopes to design an octobot that can crawl, swim and interact with its environment. And obviously look really cute doing all that.