Yet another incredible new feat of technology has commenced the next step in a new age of robotics . Using what is called "soft "robotics scientists have created an autonomous robot called the "Octobot".
It was designed by Harvard Researchers using 3-D printing to create it. What makes this so interesting is the robot was made essentially by soft materials which means that no part of the robot is rigid at all. The electronics of the robot is almost entirely fluid or mushy as the Octobot is fueled by a series of chemical reactions that occur inside of it. In the Octobot hydrogen peroxide is turned into gas allowing it to move by inflating different arms of the robot. Instead of circuits and electric power working through wires it works like soft pipes inside the body. In layman terms: the robot is squishy.
So far, all the robot has been able to do is move its arms but this is a first step in something much larger and worth getting excited about. Firstly this new technology is important because robots made with new squishy materials can move and bend in ways normal machines can't and could be much better at any number of needs that require a way for tools to slide, wiggle and squirm through.
Already many can forecast ways in which the technology, if vastly advanced, could be used to go into other machines, like cars or phones to fix them without the need of manpower. Perhaps it could even be used in more humanitarian ways during serious natural catastrophe or warring situations as a search and rescue tool, slithering through the rubble where others can't get, in search of survivors.
The second, and more strange part of this, that makes it so interesting is how it is changing what it means for something to be considered a robot, a machine and making us reevaluate what a robot even is.
I have no real understanding of how things like computers work, all the circuit boards and technology could quite literally be magic and I just wouldn't know it. But it seems for most people, even those who do understand the technology, an immediate difference, even if an insignificant one, between robots and normal living things that think rather than just process like a computer comes from the idea that robots are simply metal contraptions running on batteries and we are something far more real and complex. But now these lines are being blurred ever so slightly. The Octobot has no battery, has no wires, has very little metal parts to it. It is different in every way from the average robot.
The gelatinous mechanism filled with fluids and tubes, fueled by chemical reactions, sounds just a tiny bit too much like the way the normal organism in nature works. Of course the Octobot is a long way from that since it is essentially made with rubbery type plastic, but this robot is a step in a strange and totally new direction for technology which is only the start. Already scientists are working to make these types of "soft" robots be able to do far more, such as having full movement and being able to react to their environments and adapt to new conditions.
There are 6 traits that qualify something as an organism (being a living creature). One is responding to the environment, another is ability to adapt. Hypothetically a soft robot could also be designed as a 3-D printer so it could print itself fulfilling the ability of organisms to reproduce and possibly also the ability to grow, which are two more of the 6 traits. If they could be made to be collect their own power sources whether solar or fluid then they could also potentially qualify for the fifth trait which is the ability to obtain and use energy.
What all this adds up to is the possibility that the line between man and machine isn't quite so stable and neat and is really growing incredibly thin. If such advancement keeps up there may come a day in the near future where those two lines converge. While artificial intelligence has grown in leaps and bounds it seems the artificial organism has started its rise as well and it may not be long before these robots aren't so artificial at all. And what then?
Of course all of this is an extreme extrapolation of a small new feat in science. But it is a feat that should not go unmissed as it may be the beginning of something far crazier that may one day effect how we live, the society we live in and what we define as being alive anyway.