Humans are soft. Robots can be, too.

Picture the iconic robot duo from Star Wars: R2-D2 with its dome-like swivel head and C-3PO with its polished gold plating, jerky movements and clumsiness. While the two may have cute robot personalities, they’re not exactly the best huggers. And if one of them rammed into you, its metal and plastic exterior would be enough to knock you out.

Now, imagine those robots helping you bend your injured leg, or guide an elderly person out of bed. By the mere fact that a machine is imperfect, it could get something wrong. It could bump you or hit something.

This is the risk of bringing robots into our everyday lives, says Kris Dorsey, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering as well as Physical Therapy, Movement and Rehabilitation Sciences. She knows that the potential for robots to help people is immense, especially in healthcare settings, but safe implementation is key. And that’s what soft robotics offers — robots made from materials like soft plastic or rubber that move more organically and are less likely to cause harm.

Or, as Dorsey puts it, “if they hit you, you’d be kind of annoyed rather than injured.”

Continue reading at Northeastern Research.