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'Mood Robots' Express Themselves by Changing Colour Like Octopuses

Well, this is adorable.

by Jordan Pearson
Mar 4 2016, 4:54pm

Image credit: Cornell University. Gif: Author

A lot of work has been done lately to make robots seem less like horrifying harbingers of humanity's doom and more like something you can curl up with on the couch with.

Researchers are starting to build them out of soft, huggable materials, for example, and now these so-called soft robots will be able to emit soothing light from their stretchable "skin"—they'll even be able to change colours, kind of like high-tech mood rings, or robo-octopuses almost as irresistibly Pokemon-esque as the real article.

This latest advancement comes from grad students at Cornell University, who've developed what they call a hyper-elastic light-emitting capacitor (HLEC). The HLEC is made up of an elastomer sheet smushed in between layers of transparent hydrogel—stretchy, sticky material that makes or an ideal protective coating. You can twist and deform the panel all you want, but it won't break, and the elastomer sheet changes luminescence.

The researchers stuck a few panels together to create a soft robot, which is really just cool as all hell.

Imagine: It's 2020, and you're hanging out at home with your luminescent soft robot pet after a long day at work. Your boss was being kind of a dick today and the burrito place—the good one—was closed for lunch, so you're a bit pissed. You look over to your robot buddy, and its synthetic skin slowly changes to a soothing pink colour, washing the whole room in its gentle light.

"Why is that important?" said Rob Shepherd, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering who led the work, in a statement. "For one thing, when robots become more and more a part of our lives, the ability for them to have emotional connection with us will be important."

I'm all for a robot expressing its emotions to me like a cute little octopus, but even octopuses aren't always so docile—if your soft robot flushes a dark shade, watch out, because it wants to rumble.