The world of soft robotics is expanding rapidly, with MIT recently unveiling SoftZoo, a virtual open framework platform that simulates 3D model animals performing various tasks in different environmental settings. Researchers can use the program to design and optimize their own creations, with the aim of co-designing the soft robot bodies and their controllers for specific tasks.

SoftZoo offers an open source program that enables researchers to experiment and test their robot ideas. This allows them to find the best configuration for a robot’s shape, thereby enabling them to design soft robotics algorithms that can perform various tasks. The platform helps users understand the best strategies for robots to interact with their environments.

While it is possible to simulate a soft robot, it is much more difficult to actualize it in the real world. SoftZoo’s muscle models, spatially varying stiffness, and sensorization cannot be realized with current fabrication techniques. Nevertheless, the open-source nature of SoftZoo enables researchers to make their best and most promising designs a reality.

The potential applications for soft robotics are vast, from medical devices and wearables to search and rescue missions and environmental monitoring. By using SoftZoo to create soft robots that can interact with the environment, researchers can take steps toward developing machines that are more agile, adaptable, and versatile.

Some of the challenges researchers face in developing soft robots include the development of soft and flexible materials that can be used to create the robots. Soft robots require actuators that can provide the necessary force to move them, as well as sensors to detect changes in their environment. These challenges are being addressed by researchers around the world, and SoftZoo is helping them to develop soft robots that are better equipped to handle a wide range of tasks.

By Impact Lab