“Hard Problems? Soft Robots!” at BsidesHH 2014

I’ve been going to CCC for a while. I’ve given some talks (mostly on the lightning talk track) and have generally had a good time. More and more, though, I’ve gotten interested in gatherings that orbit big events like CCC, Maker Faire, and HOPE. Unconferences, Bsides, and nether-conferences like BarCamp are less formal than a traditional conference, and often have the kind of wiggle room for instant breakout sessions and long Q&A.

I saw there was a Bsides happening parallel to 31C3 and was eager to give a talk on soft robotics there. I reached out to F1nux and was soon hurriedly assembling slides on airport wifi. I wanted to share some things I’ve been obsessing over when it comes to soft robots – mostly how they fit into the engineering spectrum.

As much as I like the magic trick of turning some goop into a robot, I’m more interested in what problems the methods I’ve developed solve, and where to look for good applications. Nature provides a pretty rich field for targets so I’ve been reading a lot of biology papers and watching documentaries about sea invertebrates.

From the Youtube description of the talk:

Autonomous moving things come in two flavors. You’ve got robots, and you’ve got biology. Seldom in the natural world do you find solutions to the problems of grasping, manipulating, and moving like the ones we’ve come up with. Instead you find complex integrated systems that distribute load and provide power in a thousand brilliant ways.

This talk introduces some biological systems (like the beak of a squid which allows a creature basically made of protein-rich jelly to bite the heads off things orders of magnitude harder than it on the durometer scale), describes the engineering behind them, and discusses methods newly minted through digital fabrication and 3d printing for duplicating them.

In Matthew’s research at Super-Releaser he’s designed pneumatic soft robots with the goal of generating complex practical mechanisms from simple, easily mass produced methods. He’s going to bring his experience making things like a walking quadruped cast from one single seamless piece of silicone to a discussion of what’s on the cutting edge of soft robotics, where these technologies can be applied, and how you can start playing with your own squishy robots.

You can find the slides from my presentation here.

Title photo: Sue Hickton on Flickr.