Food for Thought - Edible Actuators

An Exploration into Soft Robotic 'Candy' Actuators

One of the goals of soft robotics is the ability to interface with the human body. Traditionally, silicone materials have dominated the field of soft robotics. In order to shift to materials that are more compatible with the body, developments will have to be made into biodegradable and biocompatible soft robotics. Our Soft Robotics Team decided to try and develop gummy actuators which are biodegradable, edible, and tasty. We believe that creating biodegradable and edible actuators can be both sold as an interactive candy product for children and also inform the design of implantable soft robotic devices.

Haverford Soft Robotics
Video by Intel Chen

We were inspired to make these gummy actuators because while eating a gummy worm during one of our planning sessions, one of our members mentioned how cool it would be to have a gummy worm wiggle around like an actual worm. In order to develop these gummy actuators, we first researched gelatin, a prominent ingredient in gummies. Our project is the culmination of two unique categories: children’s candy and robot design. Our goal was to build soft robotic actuators out of melted gummies. We define success as being able to create an actuator that was delicious and have it able to complete three actuations. We imagine a child buying this candy, playing with it for a few minutes then eating it. Throughout this process we explored the creative process with mold synthesis and formulating different chemical compositions of gummy material. We have documented our steps within the categories of Design, Fabrication, and Testing on our path to creating our final products.

We preceded to

1. Conduct both quantitative and qualitative analysis of gummy candy material.

2. Melt gummy candies and mold them into soft robotic shapes.

3. Create our own candy robot formula: The Fordmula. The name Fordmula comes from the fact that it is a formula coming out of HaverFORD.

Figure 1: The Three Stages
Design Fabrication Testing
These are the three stages of our product. First, we made our design. Then, we fabricated the actuator. After, we tested the material.

We aim to revolutionize the, often mundane, elementary school science class by providing an early introduction into the world of Soft Robotics and pneumatic control. In addition to the the classroom there could be a need for gummy bear toys to aid in the delivery of medicines and vaccines. These gummy toys could be made with the vaccine or the vitamin in it. The need for tasty gummy actuators could be used in oral surgery as a pleasant way of reaching in a child's mouth. While our project is focused on the educational and entertaining aspects of the gummy and gelatin actuators there could be a broader need for edible and good tasting actuators. While working on this project, we read a recently published paper (Shintake et al. 2017), and thought that we could have even more improvements to the tastiness and edibility of soft robots.

Figure 2: Pressurizing the Actuators
Inflating Actuators
Shown above is the juxtaposition of three different actuators depressurized and pressurized.