It might soon be relatively trivial to make soft robots — at least, if you have a 3D printer handy. UC San Diego researchers have devised a way to 3D-print insect-like flexible robots cheaply, quickly and without using exotic equipment. The trick was to print “flexoskeletons,” or rigid materials 3D-printed on to flexible and thin polycarbonate sheets. Much like insects, there are features that increase rigidity only in specific areas — a contrast with conventional soft robots that often have soft features tacked on to solid bodies.
Each flexoskeleton component takes about 10 minutes to print, and a completely assembled bot should be ready in less than two hours. An individual part costs less than $1 — the processing power, sensors and battery are likely to be the most expensive parts.