Meet “Dart,” a Robot Inspired by Creatures in Netflix’s Stranger Things
BU engineers have built a new soft robot that uses its mouth to lift and carry objects
From the slithering of snakes to the crawling of octopuses, the field of soft robotics has often taken cues from the natural world. But what about the supernatural? Boston University’s Morphable Biorobotics Lab—led by Tommaso Ranzani, a College of Engineering assistant professor of mechanical engineering, materials science and engineering, and biomedical engineering—is doing just that with “Dart,” a new soft robot whose nickname is inspired by its resemblance to creatures from the popular Netflix series Stranger Things.
Soft rubber robots have been able to bend, warp, and move around in unique ways, but until now, they’ve rarely been able to grasp objects and move them from place to place. Dart changes that. It can not only move around on its four legs, but can grip and lift objects with its unique six-fingered mouth.
Designed by Alexander Yim (ENG’19), with help from Hung-Ching Lin (ENG’20), Dart is able to lift up to 7.7 times its body weight and deliver cargo to a destination. Soft robots like Dart have some advantages over conventional robots made of metal and plastic, like being able to handle delicate objects without breaking them, or moving more easily over uncertain terrain.
The main disadvantage: for now, Dart can’t move around autonomously. Its movement is controlled by a series of pumps hooked up to a pressure source that controls each of its 13 points of articulation. Removed from its pressure source, Dart deflates like a balloon. But the Morphable Biorobotics Lab researchers are working on improving the techniques they’re using, with the aim that robots like Dart will someday be able to move around untethered.