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Using Explosions to Power a Soft Robot


  • This work was supported by DARPA under award number W911NF-11-1-0094. The development of materials and the analysis of thermodynamics was supported by a subcontract from Northwestern University on DOE award no DE-SC0000989. We also thank James McArthur (Department of Physics, Harvard University) for designing the initial sparking board and Marc Strauss (Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering) for building it.


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Combustion causes a soft robot to jump: Rapid actuation of a soft robot (composed of silicone elastomers) was achieved using high-temperature chemical reactions. Computer-controlled electrical sparks triggered the combustion of premixed CH4 and O2 gases inside the robot, which pressurized the pneumatic channels of the robot and caused it to jump (see figure). The heat from the explosions dissipated quickly and did not damage the robot even over many jumps.