Next generation of soft robots inspired by a children’s toy

Buckling, the sudden loss of structural stability, is usually the stuff of engineering nightmares. But, as anyone who has ever played with a toy popper knows, buckling also releases a lot of energy. When the structure of a popper buckles, the energy released by the instability sends the toy flying through the air. Harvard researchers have harnessed that energy and used buckling to their advantage to build a fast-moving, inflatable soft actuator.