Instability in engineering is generally not a good thing. If you're building a skyscraper, minor instabilities could bring the whole structure crashing down in a fraction of a second. But what if a quick change in shape is exactly what you want?
Soft machines and robots are becoming more and more functional, capable of moving, jumping, gripping an object, and even changing color. The elements responsible for their actuation motion are often soft, inflatable segments called fluidic actuators. These actuators require large amounts of air or water to change shape, making the machines slow, bulky and difficult to untether.
A team of researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) has engineered a new, soft actuator that harnesses the power of instability to trigger instantaneous movement.