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Applied Bionics and Biomechanics
Volume 5, Issue 3, Pages 99-117
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/11762320802557865

Soft Robotics: Biological Inspiration, State of the Art, and Future Research

Deepak Trivedi,1 Christopher D. Rahn,1 William M. Kier,2 and Ian D. Walker3

1Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA
2Department of Biology, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA
3Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Clemson University, Clemson, SC 29634, USA

Received 16 October 2008

Copyright © 2008 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Abstract

Traditional robots have rigid underlying structures that limit their ability to interact with their environment. For example, conventional robot manipulators have rigid links and can manipulate objects using only their specialised end effectors. These robots often encounter difficulties operating in unstructured and highly congested environments. A variety of animals and plants exhibit complex movement with soft structures devoid of rigid components. Muscular hydrostats (e.g. octopus arms and elephant trunks) are almost entirely composed of muscle and connective tissue and plant cells can change shape when pressurised by osmosis. Researchers have been inspired by biology to design and build soft robots. With a soft structure and redundant degrees of freedom, these robots can be used for delicate tasks in cluttered and/or unstructured environments. This paper discusses the novel capabilities of soft robots, describes examples from nature that provide biological inspiration, surveys the state of the art and outlines existing challenges in soft robot design, modelling, fabrication and control.