CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Imagine one day wearing a pair of shoes that adapt to the surface you're walking on with every step you take? Or clothes that perfectly conform to your body without zippers, ties or anything.
These are all things that Oregon State University researchers are developing right now inside the school's soft robotics lab.
That's where researchers like Stephanie Walker are developing, simply put, soft robots. They're building robots that can be integrated into materials like silicon or gels.
"Soft robots actually allow us to perform a lot of tasks that hard robots can't necessarily perform," said Walker.
But the researchers are also working on robotic materials we can wear, like shoes that can intelligently form to your foot.
"So it can maybe change shape a little bit while you're walking," said Walker. "It can maybe sense how much pressure is being put in one place."
The shoe would then change stiffness depending on what it senses. Even those sensors would be flexible. The flexible robotics could also be integrated into say a shirt or a dress.
You could call it "smart" clothing.
"You could monitor your heart rate, you can maybe have your clothes conform to you more tightly," explained Walker.
And it doesn't stop there.
The researchers are also developing soft biodegradable robots to help fight illnesses. The tiny robots could be swallowed and directed to a problem area inside the body, eliminating the need for surgery.
"It's going to swim. It's going to plant itself. It's going to do its thing, and then it's going to disappear," said Walker.
It's a new wave of soft robots we could be using, even wearing, in the next five to 10 years.