Over at Businessweek, I wrote a feature about soft robots, from inflatable robot arms to an exoskeleton worn like a jacket.
Inside a former organ factory in San Francisco, Della Shea is building a robot with a sewing machine. She works for Pneubotics, one of a growing number of startups designing softer automatons capable of flexible movements—and, perhaps, daily interaction with humans. "Right now our process looks more like tailoring than engineering," says Pneubotics co-founder Saul Griffith, pointing to the thick vinyl material on the sewing machine operated by Shea, whose official title is "sewboticist."
Many of tomorrow's robots may have more in common with beanbag chairs and bouncy houses than the hulking industrial arms in factories today. Breakthroughs in the nascent field of soft robotics, in which steel skeletons and power-hungry motors make way for textiles, are beginning to move from the laboratory to the startup world.