A prototype version of the soft morphing blob robot.
I recently heard about a robot being developed jointly by iRobot and researchers at the University of Chicago that sounds like science fiction come to life. The concept is a soft, shape-shifting robot that moves by something called “jamming skin enabled locomotion.” Check out the video that the researchers have released that does a much better job than I can of explaining the ideas behind the technology and showing their prototype in action (to skip the details and get to the action, scroll to 1:50):
I am excited about this project for several reasons. First of all, there are some very interesting potential applications enabled by the robot’s ability to morph its shape and traverse complex terrain. Such a device could squeeze through small holes or cracks and be an extremely valuable tool for rescue operations (think collapsed buildings, for instance) as well as national security purposes (I would guess that this is why DARPA is funding the project).
Second of all, I think the project is a great example of a concept that is captivating enough to generate excitement in people who wouldn’t normally care about advances in robotics. The idea is so fanciful and yet at the same time easy to understand that it has a way of capturing the imagination (for me, at least). And anything that gets more people interested in science, technology and engineering is good news in my book.