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Over the years, scientists have created soft robots that can handle delicate objects, crawl, and swim, however, these robots have always had a limited ability to react to the environment around them. Until now.

Researchers at Harvard University have created a new soft robot that can sense touch, pressure, movement, and temperature all thanks to 3D printing. Using traditional sensors in soft robots proved difficult in the past since those sensors are rigid.

To address this issue, Harvard researchers have created an organic ionic liquid-based conductive ink that can be 3D printed directly into the elastomer that makes up most soft robots. The new ink, combined with an embedded 3D printing process, allows soft sensing and actuation to be combined into one integrated soft robotic system.

In tests, the resulting soft robotic gripper could sense inflation pressure, curvature, contact, temperature and light and deep touches.

Researchers hope to build upon their discovery by using machine learning to train the devices to grasp objects of different sizes, shapes and surface textures.

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