About soft robotics

Why soft robotics?

Robots have traditionally been made from hard materials such as metal and plastic. They have been driven by motors and other heavy electro-mechanical actuators. These robots are more like machines than biological organisms.

Soft robotics on the other hand seeks to make robots that are soft, flexible and compliant, just like biological organisms. The ‘body’ of a soft robot is soft like natural tissue. A soft robot is driven not by heavy motors but by soft artificial muscles.

The energy store in a soft robot much more closely resembles a biological ‘stomach’ than a conventional electrical battery. Sensors and transducers in a soft robot exploit the softness of the body, enabling new sensing modalities that mimic biological sensor systems. A soft robot is much more like an artificial organism than a machine.

Artificial octopus for emergency rescue

An example of a soft robot is an artificial octopus which searches for victims under collapsed buildings following an earthquake. The robot can deform itself to squeeze into small gaps and ‘worm’ itself into the structure. When it finds a casualty trapped in the debris it can exert localised forces to create an air pocket.

Complimentary work

Soft robotics is a major research theme at BRL that also draws upon research in a wide range of complimentary fields; for example:

  • Artificial muscles: soft electro-active and chemo-active actuators;
  • Artificial stomach: bio-inspired energy supplies;
  • Soft sensors: tactile sensors and active skins Soft brain, neuro-control of soft actuators and sensors.


Applications include:

  • artificial autonomous organisms that are self-sufficient and self-repairing;
  • soft rescue robots;
  • robots that interact with humans;
  • medical robotics and devices;
  • morphing materials;
  • structures for engineering.

The Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) is a collaborative partnership between the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) and the University of Bristol. It is the most comprehensive academic centre for multi-disciplinary robotics research in the UK

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