The Red Cross has reported 400 deaths in disaster rescue in the past 20 years. Did you know that more than half of these casualties are from the volunteers who entered unchartered risky environments? Future deaths could be prevented by utilizing semi-autonomous robots to explore the regions of disasters, provide surveillance to inform first responders, and assist in the rescue of victims until human first responders can arrive.
This is where Squishy Robotics comes in. By dropping our shape-shifting robots from aerial vehicles, our mobile robots could explore previously difficult to reach areas to determine the safety of conditions before first responders enter as well as aide victims until human responders could reach them.
Squishy Robotics has broad reaching applications, including but not limited to, scientific monitoring and surveillance as well as for educational applications for K-12 students, teachers, parents, roboticists and hobbyists. Engineering design has the capability to bridge the gap between classroom science and everyday applications of science in a fun, interesting, and exciting way. What would be more exciting for students than exploring with the very same robots that NASA scientists are developing as lunar landers and rovers!
Squishy Robotics designs compliant “shape shifting” robots made from tensegrity structures. Squishy robots are game changing concepts that challenge assumptions around what robots are and what they can do. They are light-weight, low cost, and robust soft robots that can survive large impacts while carrying a payload and traveling over rough terrain. With Early Stage Innovation funding from NASA, Dr. Alice Agogino’s BEST (Berkeley Emergent Space Tensegrities) Lab at UC Berkeley has developed a “shape-shifting” tensegrity robotic planetary lander/rover, which has achieved unique records in the ability to travel on rough terrain and slopes in simulation on the Moon and in physical testing on Earth. The goal of Squishy Robotics is to develop and de-risk this technology for critical terrestrial applications on Earth and commercial space exploration.
Our “shape-shifting” squishy robotic concept has captured the imagination of researchers and the public alike. Our novel space lander and rover has been featured on the Discovery Channel and PBS. Our initial video went viral with close to 400,000 views to date. Our outreach activities have received enthusiastic responses from all age groups and genders.
Squishy Robotics is working on commercializing our rapidly prototyped “shape shifting” robots within four markets: (1) disaster rescue, monitoring, and surveillance on a range of difficult terrains. (2) K-12 students, teachers, parents. (3) roboticists and hobbyists. (4) space exploration.
Our robot concept is low-cost, light-weight, and rugged enough that it can be dropped from the air through UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) or other aircraft, then maneuvered over rough terrain for a wide range of applications on Earth. Current autonomous vehicles can be ineffective in navigating surface obstacles and climbing steep slopes to reach areas of interest. For search and rescue, aerial operations may be limited to dropping supplies, which may not be beneficial if victims are immobile and unconscious. The goal is to drop the proposed shape-shifting robots from aerial vehicles, so that these mobile robots can reach previously difficult areas for effective emergency response. This proposed technology will have broader impact in use for scientific monitoring and surveillance as well.
Disaster rescue can endanger the lives of both the victims and the first responders. Future deaths could be prevented by utilizing semi-autonomous technology to explore the regions of disasters, provide surveillance to inform first responders, and assist in the rescue of victims until human first responders can arrive. Our market research – conducted through interviews with disaster relief stakeholders including firefighters, nurses and disaster relief volunteers – revealed that top requirements for disaster rescue robots are (1) flexibility, (2) robustness, (3) lightweight and (4) easily transportable. By considering unpredictable terrains, there is an unmet need for a semi-autonomous robot that was flexible enough to climb over large physical obstacles while also being sturdy enough to withstand high impact forces in dangerous environments as well as from a drop from high elevations or an aerial vehicle.
A secondary market will be for K-12 students, teachers, parents and roboticists. With the potential to have large impact (with over 3 million potential teachers; 1 million teachers alone in secondary schools), robot kits will be developed for educational applications. The timing is right with K-12 schools starting to implement the Next Generation Science Standards. The space tensegrity robot, which provides the foundation for this research, has captured the imagination of researchers and the public alike. The shape-shifting robots and the SBIR team have been featured on the Discovery Channel and PBS. The outreach activities have received enthusiastic responses from all age groups and genders.
Squishy Robotics is a new start-up at the SkyDeck, a partnership between the Haas School of Business, the College of Engineering, and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research at UC Berkeley. The SkyDeck office is on the penthouse floor of the tallest building in Downtown Berkeley. We have spectacular views of the UC Berkeley campus as well as the San Francisco Bay.