Know How – The invention of Soft Robotics for the food processing industry

Innovations often arise from unexpected situations and conditions. In 2008-09, the DARPA – Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency circulated a challenge to roboticists. DARPA needed roboticists to design a robot that could drive itself to a door, get under the door and drive itself endlessly. This challenge started to a new field called soft robotics from a chemistry lab, not robotics or engineering, at Harvard University with a pipeline that led to clarifications for labor wants in the food processing industry.

Design for industry

The regular roboticists attempted to build a transformer-type robot. It would motivate itself to the door.

“But the chemistry section at Harvard University also got an award,” says Carl Vause, CEO of Soft Robotics, Bedford, Massachusetts. “All were not roboticists; they were chemists. So, everybody had polymer science, they had fluidic data, and they said, ‘Resemble an octopus can do that. It could lead up to a door and skinny itself under, so let’s build a robotic octopus.’”

The current field of soft robotics created in the Harvard University chemistry lab, and directed by George Whitesides, Ph.D., practiced in building robotic compositions out of soft, non-rigid elements. The chemists from Harvard practiced fluid actuation, pneumatics, and hydraulics on off-the-shelf polymers to create the only robot that resulted in moving up to the door, crawling under it and walking away.

The team of Harvard chemists proceeded to work on the technology and Whitesides, through practice & performing biotech and pharmaceutical companies, started to network with his contacts in the “hard products” business.
After Vause and Whitesides met, Vause was interested in the way the robot associated with its environment and the effect that communication might have on doing a dilemma the robotics community had forever dealt with: producing a robot to pick up fragile items that differ in the measurement of weight and size.

“This has been a tremendous difficulty because traditionally robots have been very task confirmed and if you need them to do something different or there’s a slight change in the object, there’s a lot of programming, a lot of downtimes, a seldom amazing redesign that has to attain,” Vause says. “If you look at what we call low structure and unorganized [modification within the environment shifting in actual time such as size and shape of objects to be pulled up] environments, robots haven’t been able to work in that situation because they do task A, do task A, do task A.”

Vause and his team permitted the technology from Harvard, founded the company, Soft Robotics, in the summer of 2013, and managed to get the technology to market. Once there, the organization began receiving calls from food companies looking for solutions to labor deficits, especially in packaging.

“The Food companies, refrigerated or freezer conditions, & have objects, whether they’re tomatoes, or cuts of beef or chicken drumsticks, they’re easily spoilage, they’re all various sizes and weights and make sure that we can make this product packaged. We’ve tried robots, but robots couldn’t manage our product,” Vause says.

But, Soft Robotics having the certification of the code of federal regulations (CFR) of the US Govt. for Food Contact Packaging & Japanese FDA and its certification for direct food touch in the European Union (EU). This certificate the permission for the human hand.


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