A 6-by-9 flexible brick could be the next prospect in engineering. According to the New Scientist, “George Whitesides and his colleagues at Harvard University have developed a range of soft robots, from limbo-dancing squid to bendy tentacles, based on flexible plastics and powered by air. All of these had to be made with specialized molds, and the team realized that they could be more creative if they used building blocks.”These soft robots move through the inflation and deflation as air is pumped in and out of their connectable parts, making them a less mechanical and more fluid version of their more traditional counterparts.
This 3D-printed item could be part of a revolutionary micro manufacturing trend that involves soft robots that can slip into small spaces, competing with current, bulkier models that work large-scale assembly.
While the possible applications range from medical care to exploration of high risk environments, some believe the objects would also work well as toys — especially since the soft robots were inspired by the Lego.
CNET notes, “The Click-e-Bricks approach opens up possibilities for soft robots that could re-configure themselves without the need of a person to click and unclick the bricks. While the bricks are currently confined to the realm of research and development, traditional Lego fans will no doubt pine for their own set of squishy building blocks. Just imagine how awesome it would be to have a “Star Wars” Lego Jabba the Hutt made from gelatinous plastic.”
The emerging trend also offers opportunities for manufacturers to develop their own soft robots to complete production within their own facilities.
3D printing has played a major role in developing Click-e-Bricks’ capabilities. These soft robots have added a sense of volatility to 3D printing in the way that they bend, mold, and move. These flexible designs are a long way from the line-by-line printing that manufacturers once had to contend with.