• Gabriella Garcia

Soft Robotics week 1: seeking softness

I cannot help but notice how intentionally sharp and pointy much of Manhattan is, much evident of NYC's hostile anti-homeless architecture. These are the things I notice on particularly brutal weeks as this one has been, so starting soft robotics right now came just in time to remind me to look for the soft things, too—and how the soft is often more robust and adaptable than the rigid, especially in terms of complex engineering tasks.

Soft scavenger hunt

Blick has become a second home of sorts, so I decided to visit the art store to seek items featuring softness, as assigned. I'm usually running there for very specific items, so it was a rare treat to actually take time to study Blick's shelves with this intent.

I tried to keep my eye out for a variety of different materials/textures/potential uses, here's my ten:

1. Clay, seems very versatile from prototyping -> final product, huge variety of colors

2. Figure armature aluminum wire (10 gauge): resilient for lots of shape testing before final skeleton form

3. Skin-safe silicone rubber: non-toxic, thixotropic, fun for body-shaped molds

4. Modeling mesh: cool for multifaceted/dimensional shapes with depth, inspires very delicate robotic sculpture work

5. craft syringes: pneumatic by design

6. Pipe cleaners: basically the next step after blocks and legos in the lifelong pedagogy of building objects

7. Velco: made for space! solves so many problems! very noisy though

8. Rubber cement: pliable adhesive, convenient packaging

9. Balsa wood: I like when designs show off the balsa wood they use, it's interesting to see a delicate wood

10. Colored cello wrap: I'm drawn to it historically for lighting purposes, also cool for shrink-wrapping

Cable Experiment:

I'd love to spend more time exploring cable systems; the costume-making side of me itches to see how cables could be incorporated! Thusly I decided to do my first experiment using fabric, trying to achieve the "roman shade" effect. I was hoping to get tiered "scrunches" but I put my anchors in the wrong order with the final anchor scrunching the tightest first in order of operations, negating any other opportunity for scrunches. Now I know!

And finally, an introduction

We were asked to share a favorite project from the past— mine comes in the form of an interview with Moon Ribas, co-founder of the Cyborg Foundation alongside Neil Harbisson. Ribas is a dancer who choreographs her performances based on seismic information she receives via a vibrating chip in her elbow. Moon embodies the beautiful intersection of art, technology, and advocacy; she has certainly served as an inspiration for me. Producing this article and making sure it was presented as transfixing as it deserved to be was the least I could do thank Moon.

Moon Ribas, 'Waiting for Earthquakes"
Moon Ribas, 'Waiting for Earthquakes"