The Future of Robots Is Delicious
Two weeks ago, I mentioned the "soft robot." The emerging field of "soft robotics" is inspired by nature. And its goal is to create robots that are more malleable, flexible, and can adapt to any environment.
These robots will be going to space with our astronauts.
A Swiss research team heard about Yale University's breakthrough soft robots. And the team adapted the soft robotics programming... But leave it to a country renowned for its chocolate to create a robot you can eat.
That's right. These functional gelatin-based actuators move like fingers. And they're entirely edible.
The idea came to the team at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. It was based not only on the findings of Yale Robotics but also on a similar project launched by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) last year.
The MIT robotics team created a robot that was essentially a small piece of origami made of pig intestines and fitted with tiny motors. This robot could enter the human body and harmlessly unfold to catch dangerous swallowed items. This robot will be placed in pediatric hospitals to remove batteries, marbles, Legos, and anything else that a child could have swallowed. The robot runs on nontoxic batteries that are easy to digest if something goes wrong.
Jun Shintake of the Swiss Institute read the findings of the MIT team. And he got to thinking:
We are doing all of these bio-inspired robots, but biological systems are eaten and our systems are not. I thought that's very interesting. Food and robots have very different constraints and properties. Even before thinking about what we could make out of them, I thought it was a very interesting challenge to see if we can marry these two fields.
Dario Floreano, head of the Swiss Institute's Laboratory of Intelligent Systems (LIS), was the man who green-lighted the project. He admitted that this work was "born out of a challenge to create something new, rather than the desire to address any specific functionality."
The fingers have been made into a series of claw-like grippers. They can handle and manipulate a wide variety of objects and complete simple tasks.
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Consider the implications of edible robots...
You could fill wildlife preserves with robotic antelope as a supplemental food source without changing the animals' natural behavior.
You could offer cruelty-free and animal-free hunting seasons where hunters stalk fast-moving, gelatinous robots through the forests of Vermont.
The United Nations could have these robots walk to starving countries, plop down in the center of a village, and let themselves be consumed.
The possibilities are endless.
Now, I know you must be wondering: What do these robots taste like?
The Swiss admit that the flavor is almost nonexistent in the current gelatin version of the edible robot. But the team announced plans to pair with master chefs at École hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL), a nearby, world-renowned hospitality management school.
So, the next wave of robots will be delicious.
Contributing Editor, Park Avenue Digest