Here’s how to take part in the soft robotics workshop at Inspirefest 2017

29 May 2017

Dónal Holland, developer of the Soft Robotics Toolkit. Image: Conor McCabe Photogtaphy

Soft Robotics Toolkit developer Dónal Holland will be attending the Family Fringe event at Inspirefest 2017 if you want to try your hand at creating some robots.

Life Sciences Week 2017

To the outsider, the world of soft robotics research is akin to Frankenstein-like tinkering with nature to create machines that look, for all intents and purposes, just like things that exist in the world around us.

Unlike clunky, mechanical robots seen in factories, soft robots are not typically designed by high-end machinery, but by commercially available maker tools such as 3D printers and home computers.

To give one recent example, researchers from MIT revealed a tiny manta ray robot that could one day roam lakes in the hunt for pollution.

What makes it so special is that unlike many robots, this model does not require a bulky motor as the soft hydrogel material around the robot reacts to a small electrical current in the surrounding water, propelling itself forward.

Looking at a more local solution, NUI Galway postdoctoral researcher Dr Ellen Roche is working on a soft robotic sleeve that could help ailing hearts to keep pumping.

One person deeply involved with getting this type of technology out to the world is Dr Dónal Holland, lecturer in biomechanics at the University College Dublin School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, and developer of the Soft Robotics Toolkit.

Create your own squishy robots

Made in collaboration with fellow Irish man and award-winning Harvard engineer Conor Walsh, the free resource is available online for anyone – whether they’re in school or an established engineer – to use to develop soft robots.

On stage at Inspirefest 2016, Holland revealed some incredible work undertaken by children during a visit to a Peruvian high school. There, students created a number of moulds for soft robots in the space of a few hours, built with just some cardboard and glue.

Among the projects developed was a soft robotics piece to be placed in a teddy bear, which would hug someone back when pressure was applied to its chest, as well as a device that would help someone perform CPR.

For families looking to try out the Soft Robotics Toolkit for themselves, Holland will be at the Inspirefest Family Fringe event at Accenture’s The Dock on Saturday, 8 July to show people of all ages how to design and build their very own soft robots.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic