“Wave”: A Soft Robot Inch Worm, by Judy Chi


For the Making Studio course in the MFA Products of Design program taught by Becky Stern, Judy Chi uses Arduino software to bring together two areas of technology—soft robotics and bio-mimicry—in order to create "Wave", a soft robot inch worm.

Surveying new models for soft robot construction, Judy was intrigued by the differences from the more popular, iconic robot forms. Typical robotic systems are an assembly of rigid parts that use limbs, gears or wheels for movement. Soft robots, however, are usually composed of a single layer cast from silicone or rubber (once an initial mold is made, additional units are more easily reproduced) and use pneumatics to create their motion. (Check out Matthew Borgatti’s Glaucus and Harvard University scientists' quadruped robot, two of Judy’s inspirations for this project.)

Even open-source soft robots, however, require the use of sophisticated equipment and techniques for construction such as 3-D printers, CAD software and silicone casting. Judy saw an opportunity to make these soft robots more accessible by creating a version from more readily-available, analog tools and materials, and to share her step-by-step instructions on the DIY website, Instructables.com. “It’s exciting to see the development of soft robotics, and its potential applications from natural disaster rescue scenarios to physical rehabilitation," remarks Judy. "It would be great if a wider audience could get exposure to this technology.”

"The air pump and sensor from the blood pressure monitor get connected back to a balloon, which gets housed in a bellows constructed from Dixie cups!"

Her soft robot Wave is constructed from simple materials including vinyl and silicone sheets, a hacked blood pressure monitor, and (believe-it-or-not) a party balloon and Dixie cups. The simple, rippled form of the worm is made by sewing the sheets of vinyl and silicone together. The air pump and sensor from the blood pressure monitor get connected back to a balloon, which gets housed in a bellows constructed from the Dixie cups.

Below are some process photos on the assembly of the soft robot. To see more detailed instructions and grab the Arduino code, check out Judy’s project on Instructables.