Soft Robotics Now Advancing

November 2, 2016

Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article. 

1. autonomous / ɔˈtɒn ə məs / (adj.) – can move without anything controlling it from the outside, can move independently
Example: The agency is looking at developing autonomous vehicles for senior citizens.

2. delicate ˈdɛl ɪ kɪt / (adj.) – can easily be broken or damaged
Example: Please handle the delicate pieces with care.

3. rigid ˈrɪdʒ ɪd / (adj.) – firmly fixed, stiff
Example: He remained in a rigid position for a long time.

4. power / ˈpaʊ ər / (v.) – to provide power (e.g. electricity) to something
Example: The robot is powered by batteries.

5. make great strides / meɪk greɪt straɪdz /  (idiom) – to result in great progress
Example: The researchers are hoping to make great strides in the field of robotic surgery.


Read the text below.
Researchers from the Harvard University made a significant development in soft robotics through the world’s first autonomous soft robot—the Octobot.

Robots are usually made of hard materials, such as metals, wires, batteries, and screws. However, the use of these materials prevent robots from performing movements needed in uncertain environments, such as underwater or inside the human body. Thus, scientists looked into creating soft robots. Soft robots can give the gentleness required in some tasks wherein they can move without damaging delicate parts.

The Octobot, with its eight arms, was modeled after the octopus, which does not have rigid parts or internal skeleton but can do tasks that require gentleness or strength. A chemical reaction, rather than bulky components, powers the robot. Gas converted from liquid fuel inflates the robot’s arms, allowing them to move. The scientists believe that with technological advances, the Octobot can be developed for surgery or rescue missions.

Octobot is not the first soft robot to be modeled after the octopus. Previously, a team from Italy’s BioRobotics Institute created a soft robot inspired by the octopus. The researchers instructed the robot to explore a narrow gap underwater, which it did with ease.

Scientists are hoping to make great strides in the field of soft robotics for different purposes. Traditional robots, such as those used in factories, are inflexible. Thus, they are not appropriate for more delicate jobs. In the future, soft robotics researchers hope that their creations will be used to explore unpredictable environments such as the ocean floor or Mars. Soft robots can also be used in the field of medicine by aiding movement in the elderly or the disabled.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.  

Discussion A

·         Aside from those mentioned in the article, in what other industries can soft robots be helpful?
·         What other soft robots do you think should be developed in the future?

Discussion B

·         Do you think robots will eventually replace humans? Why or why not?
·         In what industries will robots have difficulty in doing human work? Why do you say so?

November 2, 2016