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at EPFL have developed a tiny pump that could play a big role in the development of autonomous soft robots, lightweight exoskeletons and smart clothing.

Soft robots have a distinct advantage over their rigid forebears: they can adapt to complex environments, handle fragile objects and interact safely with humans.

Made from silicone, rubber or other stretchable polymers, they are ideal for use in rehabilitation exoskeletons – such as the ones being developed in the NCCR Robotics “Wearable Robotics” research line – and robotic clothing.

Weighing just one gram, the pump is completely silent and consumes very little power, which it gets from a 2 cm by 2 cm circuit that includes a rechargeable battery.

Soft pumps can also be used to circulate liquids in thin flexible tubes embedded in smart clothing, leading to garments that can actively cool or heat different regions of the body.

The EPFL team has also fitted a fabric glove with tubes and shown that it is possible to heat or cool regions of the glove as desired using the pump.

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