Since the concept was first invented during the 1920s, robots have been perceived by many to be bulky, heavy, purely-metallic machines. However, Yale University researchers are working to change this mindset by devising a way to transform everyday objects into robots.
This is achieved through the use of "robotic skins," which are constructed by embedding sheets of elastic material with various sensors and modules. By having inanimate objects - such as crumpled paper and plastic tubes - "wear" the robotic skins, the objects become animated and serve as makeshift robots. Furthermore, by layering multiple robotic skins together, the improvised robot gains the ability to perform complex movements that it normally wouldn't be able to perform.
Another advantage offered by robotic skins is that the purpose of the robot depends on the object that was used as its base form. For instance, using robotic skins on a shirt allows the shirt to correct poor posture, while a gripper was able to function in a manner similar to a robotic arm. This multi-functionality means that robotic skins can be used, in the lead developer's words, "to prepare for the unknown unknowns."
While the concept's first prototypes have been successful, the team is planning to make further improvements to the robotic skins. Specifically, they are working on ways to use 3D printing technology to manufacture the devices. By making use of 3D printing in the manufacturing process, the researchers hope to make their innovation easier to fabricate in the foreseeable future.
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