Scientists Create Gummy Robot For Jobs that Require Being Eaten

Monday, 09 October 2017 - 10:11AM
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Monday, 09 October 2017 - 10:11AM
Scientists Create Gummy Robot For Jobs that Require Being Eaten
Image credit: EPFL
Anyone hungry? Feel like taking a bite out of a piece of robotics history?

Researchers at EPFL in Switzerland have created soft, squishy robot fingers from a mix of gelatin, sugar, and water, that can contract similarly to a muscle when an energy current is passed through their core. This mirrors research into creating malleable robot bodies taking place in various research facilities around the world, but where other soft robots are designed around an effort to create flexible machines, this new project is designed as something very different.

The researchers involved are looking to create a fully biodegradable, edible robot that can be used in a variety of different settings. Yes, that's right - these robot fingers are basically made from gummy candy, and we're expected to want to eat them.



When we think of robots, we normally imagine something big, brawny, and hard as steel. It's the look that's perpetuated throughout the history of robotics, so that even movies about soft, bouncy automatons make a point of showing cold, unfeeling metal innards to remind us that we're dealing with something electronic.

Edible robots, though, can do a lot more than lift heavy objects. If the EPFL's research pays off, we could have a genuinely fantastic medical tool at our disposal - imagine a robot that can heal the body from the inside, dispersing medicine in scheduled bursts as it's slowly consumed.

Or, alternatively, this robot could be put to work in anthropological or work. It could be sent out into the wild to be consumed by predators, which can then be tracked from the inside as they migrate, allowing scientists to record data on movement patterns without ever having to disrupt the animals' natural habitat.

Then there's the environmental benefits to a robot that can be eaten or broken down for food. Because a gelatin-based robot will biodegrade over time, there's no danger of waste if one of these machines is sent to a remote part of the world to perform some task that would be too dangerous for humans. Simply send a robot out into the forest, allow it to check the pH level of the local water supply, then let it sit there until local wildlife feasts on its delicious sugary body.

Heck, in a pinch, such a robot could even consume its own glucose-filled body to provide a source of energy. We could have robots that can eat themselves in order to continue to function.

This technology is still in its infancy, but progress is being made. Gummy fingers that can delicately grip fruit and other objects are only the first step for what will hopefully eventually lead to robots that are completely made of delicious candy. Scientists argue that this could lead to a revolution in food transportation, where even the courier itself is edible at the end of the process.

The only problem here that scientists may face is the issue of using animal products to create robots. Many people are annoyed enough when currency contains animal fat, so the idea of a robot made of pig gelatin that's involved in food delivery will no doubt raise ethical questions.

Depending on how things go in the future, we may end up with a situation where grocery store customers have to inquire as to whether the apples are actually vegan. It's all fair and good making the effort to avoid eating meat, but if a robot has been rubbing fingers made of bacon grease all over the fruit and veg section, things get a little more complicated.
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