There's a branch of robotics research that doesn't necessarily believe that future automatons have to be filled with pistons, gears, and motors. Working to closely emulate Mother Nature's more squishy creations, these robots would be made entirely from soft materials, like UC Berkeley's new hydrogel that reacts and moves when blasted with a laser.

The material was created by combining synthetic elastic proteins with one-atom thick sheets of graphene. When blasted with near infrared laser light the graphene sheets generate heat which in turn causes the proteins to absorb or release water as they get warmer and cooler.

So the hydrogel ends up working like the cells that allow a plant to move and bend towards light, except in a more controlled and immediate manner so the material can be used to develop robots that act like jellyfish, squids, and other soft creatures. It's nice to know that when the inevitable robot coup does happen, it'll at least be cuddly. [UC Berkeley via Gizmag]