“The struggle has always been in replacing rigid components like batteries and electronic controls with analogous soft systems and then putting it all together,” explained Wood in the Harvard news release. “This research demonstrates that we can easily manufacture the key components of a simple, entirely soft robot, which lays the foundation for more complex designs.”
The robot is mostly 3D printed, and afterwards its body is inlaid with channels that both power and govern its movement. That movement is pneumatic, powered by gas derived from hydrogen peroxide, the robot’s fuel. It pushes fluid through the limbs, inflating them — and if it were only that, it would still be impressive.
But the key bit here is that the microfluidic network is cleverly designed to feed back on itself, shutting down the inflation of one limb and starting the inflation of another in a predetermined sequence. It does its thing (such as it is) on its own, without any need for the researchers or environment to provide power or guidance.