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The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University uses Nature's design principles to develop bioinspired materials and devices that will transform medicine and create a more sustainable world. Wyss researchers are developing innovative new engineering solutions for healthcare, energy, architecture, robotics, and manufacturing that are translated into commercial products and therapies through collaborations with clinical investigators, corporate alliances, and formation of new start–ups. The Wyss Institute creates transformative technological breakthroughs by engaging in high risk research, and crosses disciplinary and institutional barriers, working as an alliance that includes Harvard's Schools of Medicine, Engineering, Arts & Sciences and Design, and in partnership with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston Children's Hospital, Dana–Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, Boston University, Tufts University, and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, University of Zurich and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

by   -   September 18, 2018

The multi-joint soft exosuit consists of textile apparel components worn at the waist, thighs and calves that guide mechanical forces from an optimized mobile actuation system attached to a rucksack via cables to the ankle and hip joints. In addition, a new tuning method helps personalize the exosuit’s effects to wearers’ specific gaits. Credit: Harvard Biodesign Lab

By Benjamin Boettner

In the future, smart textile-based soft robotic exosuits could be worn by soldiers, fire fighters and rescue workers to help them traverse difficult terrain and arrive fresh at their destinations so that they can perform their respective tasks more effectively. They could also become a powerful means to enhance mobility and quality of living for people suffering from neurodegenerative disorders and for the elderly.

by   -   September 10, 2018

Credit: Wyss Institute Harvard

By Benjamin Boettner

Manipulating delicate tissues such as blood vessels during difficult surgeries, or gripping fragile organisms in the deep sea presents a challenge to surgeons and researchers alike. Roboticists have made inroads into this problem by developing soft actuators on the microscale that are made of elastic materials and, through the expansion or contraction of embedded active components, can change their shapes to gently handle objects without damaging them. However, the specific designs and materials used for their fabrication so far still limit their range of motion and the strength they can exert at scales on which surgeons and researchers would like to use them.

by   -   August 9, 2018

A new fabrication process enables the creation of soft robots at the millimeter scale with features on the micrometer scale as shown here with the example of a small soft robotic peacock spider with moving body parts and colored eyes and abdomens. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

By Benjamin Boettner

Roboticists are envisioning a future in which soft, animal-inspired robots can be safely deployed in difficult-to-access environments, such as inside the human body or in spaces that are too dangerous for humans to work, in which rigid robots cannot currently be used. Centimeter-sized soft robots have been created, but thus far it has not been possible to fabricate multifunctional flexible robots that can move and operate at smaller size scales.

by   -   August 9, 2018

his fully 3D-printed version of the grippers includes “fingernails” on the ends of the fingers to help pick up organisms that are sitting on hard surfaces, as well as mesh extensions between the fingers to keep samples secure. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

By Lindsay Brownell

The deep ocean – dark, cold, under high pressure, and airless – is notoriously inhospitable to humans, yet it teems with organisms that manage to thrive in its harsh environment. Studying those creatures requires specialized equipment mounted on remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) that can withstand those conditions in order to collect samples. This equipment, designed primarily for the underwater oil and mining industries, is clunky, expensive, and difficult to maneuver with the kind of control needed for interacting with delicate sea life. Picking a delicate sea slug off the ocean floor with these tools is akin to trying to pluck a grape using pruning shears.

by   -   July 25, 2018
When HAMR needs to sink, its footpads emit a high voltage to break the water surface tension. This process is called electrowetting, which is the reduction of the contact angle between a material and the water surface under an applied voltage. This change of contact angle makes it easier for objects to break the water surface. (Credit: Yufeng Chen, Neel Doshi, and Benjamin Goldberg/Harvard University)

By Leah Burrows

In nature, cockroaches can survive underwater for up to 30 minutes. Now, a robotic cockroach can do even better. Harvard’s Ambulatory Microrobot, known as HAMR, can walk on land, swim on the surface of water, and walk underwater for as long as necessary, opening up new environments for this little bot to explore.

by   -   July 24, 2018

By Lindsay Brownell

The open ocean is the largest and least explored environment on Earth, estimated to hold up to a million species that have yet to be described. However, many of those organisms are soft-bodied – like jellyfish, squid, and octopuses – and are difficult to capture for study with existing underwater tools, which all too frequently damage or destroy them. Now, a new device developed by researchers at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute, John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study safely traps delicate sea creatures inside a folding polyhedral enclosure and lets them go without harm using a novel, origami-inspired design. The research is reported in Science Robotics.

by   -   May 9, 2018

As the vacuum is applied to the flexible material, it becomes stiff and able to support the weight of the drone. Credit: Yashraj Narang

By Leah Burrows

Even octopuses understand the importance of elbows. When these squishy, loose-limbed cephalopods need to make a precise movement — such as guiding food into their mouth — the muscles in their tentacles contract to create a temporary revolute joint. These joints limit the wobbliness of the arm, enabling more controlled movements.

A Bayesian optimization method that integrates the metabolic costs in wearers of this hip-assisting exosuit enabled the individualized fine-tuning of assistive forces. Credit: Ye Ding/Harvard University
By Leah Burrows

When it comes to soft, assistive devices — like the exosuit being designed by the Harvard Biodesign Lab — the wearer and the robot need to be in sync. But every human moves a bit differently and tailoring the robot’s parameters for an individual user is a time-consuming and inefficient process.

Now, researchers from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied and Sciences (SEAS) have developed an efficient machine learning algorithm that can quickly tailor personalized control strategies for soft, wearable exosuits.

by   -   March 2, 2018

This soft robotic gripper is the result of a platform technology developed by Harvard researchers to create soft robots with embedded sensors that can sense inputs as diverse as movement, pressure, touch, and temperature. Credit: Ryan L. Truby/Harvard University

By Leah Burrows

Researchers at Harvard University have built soft robots inspired by nature that can crawl, swim, grasp delicate objects and even assist a beating heart, but none of these devices has been able to sense and respond to the world around them.

by   -   February 28, 2018

This soft robot is made using kirigami — an ancient Japanese paper craft that relies on cuts, rather than origami folds, to change the properties of a material. As the robot stretches, the kirigami is transformed into a 3D-textured surface. Credit: Ahmad Rafsanjani/Harvard SEAS

By Leah Burrows

Who needs legs? With their sleek bodies, snakes can slither up to 14 miles-per-hour, squeeze into tight spaces, scale trees, and swim. How do they do it? It’s all in the scales. As a snake moves, its scales grip the ground and propel the body forward — similar to how crampons help hikers establish footholds in slippery ice. This so-called “friction-assisted locomotion” is possible because of the shape and positioning of snake’s scales.

by   -   February 2, 2018

Completely unfolded, the milliDelta with 15 mm-by-15 mm-20 mm roughly compares to a cent piece, and uses piezoelectric actuators, and flexural joints in its three arms to control high-frequency movements of a stage on top. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

By Benjamin Boettner

Because of their high precision and speed, Delta robots are deployed in many industrial processes, including pick-and-place assemblies, machining, welding and food packaging. Starting with the first version developed by Reymond Clavel for a chocolate factory to quickly place chocolate pralines in their packages, Delta robots use three individually controlled and lightweight arms that guide a platform to move fast and accurately in three directions. The platform is either used as a stage, similar to the ones being used in flight simulators, or coupled to a manipulating device that can, for example, grasp, move, and release objects in prescribed patterns. Over time, roboticists have designed smaller and smaller Delta robots for tasks in limited workspaces, yet shrinking them further to the millimeter scale with conventional manufacturing techniques and components has proven fruitless.

by   -   December 20, 2017

This programmable DNA nanorobot ‘patrols’ the bloodstream and releases its payload of drugs in response to the presence of its target, much like the body’s white blood cells. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

By Lindsay Brownell

DNA has often been compared to an instruction book that contains the information needed for a living organism to function, its genes made up of distinct sequences of the nucleotides A, G, C, and T echoing the way that words are composed of different arrangements of the letters of the alphabet. DNA, however, has several advantages over books as an information-carrying medium, one of which is especially profound: based on its nucleotide sequence alone, single-stranded DNA can self-assemble, or bind to complementary nucleotides to form a complete double-stranded helix, without human intervention. That would be like printing the instructions for making a book onto loose pieces of paper, putting them into a box with glue and cardboard, and watching them spontaneously come together to create a book with all the pages in the right order.

by   -   December 7, 2017

Origami-inspired artificial muscles are capable of lifting up to 1,000 times their own weight, simply by applying air or water pressure. Credit: Shuguang Li / Wyss Institute at Harvard University

By Lindsay Brownell

Soft robotics has made leaps and bounds over the last decade as researchers around the world have experimented with different materials and designs to allow once rigid, jerky machines to bend and flex in ways that mimic and can interact more naturally with living organisms. However, increased flexibility and dexterity has a trade-off of reduced strength, as softer materials are generally not as strong or resilient as inflexible ones, which limits their use.

by   -   October 27, 2017

New, hybrid RoboBee can fly, dive into water, swim, propel itself back out of water, and safely land. The RoboBee is retrofitted with four buoyant and a central gas collection chamber. Once the RoboBee swims to the surface, an electrolytic plate in the chamber converts water into oxyhydrogen, a combustible gas fuel. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

By Leah Burrows

We’ve seen RoboBees that can fly, stick to walls, and dive into water. Now, get ready for a hybrid RoboBee that can fly, dive into water, swim, propel itself back out of water, and safely land.

by   -   October 19, 2017

The face of the father of quantum physics, Max Planck, emerges from a flat disk. In each state, the colors show the growth factors of the top (left) and bottom (right) layer, and the thin black lines indicate the direction of growth. The top layer is viewed from the front, and the bottom layer is viewed from the back, to highlight the complexity of the geometries. Credit: Harvard SEAS

By Leah Burrows

Nature has a way of making complex shapes from a set of simple growth rules. The curve of a petal, the swoop of a branch, even the contours of our face are shaped by these processes. What if we could unlock those rules and reverse engineer nature’s ability to grow an infinitely diverse array of shapes?