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These soft robot fingers are also edible

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Why make robots edible? Well, it’s not to give humanity an advantage during future robot uprisings. Instead, researchers from Swiss research institute EPFL imagine digestible bots being put to a number of uses — from exploring our bodies (before being disposed of by our guts) to “food transportation where the robot does not require additional payload because the robot is the food.” (Our emphasis.)

These ideas and more were outlined in a recent paper titled “Soft Pneumatic Gelatin Actuator for Edible Robotics” and first reported on by IEEE Spectrum. The “soft pneumatic gelatin actuators” in question are the squishy-looking fingers you can see above and below. Soft robots like this aren’t new (supermarkets use them for handling fruit without bruising, for example), but rather than being made from plastic, these actuators are made from a combination of gelatin, glycerin, and water. That means they’re both edible and biodegradable.


Image: EPFL
The gelatin actuators can be used to pick up a range of objects. Because they’re soft, they don’t damage sensitive items like fruit.

These attributes mean robots made like this could do all sorts of interesting jobs. They could be sent off on missions in the wild then left to naturally decompose. They could be designed as “prey robots,” intended to be eaten by wild animals before tracking their movements from the inside out. And because they’re biocompatible they could be deployed inside our own bodies, with drugs added to their gelatin mix so that they deliver medicine while they’re digested.

None of these functions are likely to come to fruition in the near future, but the researchers at EPFL’s Laboratory of Intelligent Systems are dreaming big. They even suggest that rather than humans eating the edible robots, the robots could eat themselveswith the gelatin providing an emergency source of energy for a struggling bot. Typical robots: always taking food out of humans’ mouths.

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