Perhaps our future overlords won’t be made up of electrical circuits after all but will instead be soft-bodied like ourselves. However, their design will have its origins in electrical analogues, as with the Octobot.
The Octobot is the brainchild a team of Harvard University researchers who recently published an article about it in Nature. Its body is modeled on the octopus and is composed of all soft body parts that were made using a combination of 3D printing, molding and soft lithography. Two sets of arms on either side of the Octobot move, taking turns under the control of a soft oscillator circuit. You can see it in action in the video below.
Octobot mechanical and electrical analogue circuits (credit: Michael Wehner at al./Nature)
As shown in the diagram, the fuel is a liquid hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) which the oscillator gets from one of two fuel reservoirs and feeds into one of two reaction chambers. In the oscillator, pinch valves act like JFETs. When fuel from one reservoir is flowing into one reaction chamber, one of the pinch valves pinches off the flow of fuel to the other reaction chamber. It’s not clear how but somehow or other that fuel flow is then pinched off by another pinch valve as fuel then flows from the other reservoir to the other reaction chamber.
The reaction chamber contains a small amount of platinum as a catalyst which reacts with the hydrogen peroxide to release a much larger volume of oxygen gas into actuators in the arms. Those actuators expand like balloons causing the arms to move. The reaction chambers are the analogues of amplifiers. Other analogues are check valves for diodes, vent orifices for resistors as well as other chambers which appear to be capacitors.
This is a proof of concept and as yet the Octobot doesn’t walk but the team hopes to make one that can crawl, swim and interact with its environment. When it does we look forward to it joining this other soft-bodied bot modeled after a stingray. It looks like our overlords might all come from the sea.
Here’s you can see the Octobot in action.
And here’s another video from Harvard demonstrating the chemical reaction between hydrogen peroxide and platinum that produces oxygen. ("Powering the Octobot: A chemical reaction")