The development team called the machine, which is about a foot-and-a-half long and can carry more than 7 pounds, a huge step forward for robotics.
It has the potential to complete life-saving tasks like squeezing into the crevices of collapsed buildings to search for victims, send their location and images to rescuers and provide them with water and medicines.
"I'm very excited about this," said Michael Tolley, a research associate at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and a member of the project team. "I think it's really a milestone towards these types of robots becoming more useful in the real world. On one hand, it seems like a relatively simple thing to just cut the cord but a lot of things that have to come together to make it happen."
The team of researchers from Harvard and its Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering restructured a standard soft robot design so it could carry the equipment it needs to function -- micro-compressors, control systems, and batteries -- on its back.
Harvard's soft robot is made of Kevlar at the bottom to give it strength, while the top of it is made of a silicone rubber composite. The stiff rubber material is impregnated with hollow glass microspheres to make it lighter, researchers said.