Scientists claim super-stretchy robot worms that can feel their environment could have applications in industry and prosthetics.
Engineers at the University of Glasgow have created robots with motion patterns inspired by inchworm and earthworm movements.
The wiggly, soft robo worms can stretch up to nine times their own length. They have a type of proprioception, which is how biological animals such as worms feel their position in space. This capacity has never been proven in the realm of soft robotics previously. It allows the robot worms to fit into narrow spaces that their stiff robot counterparts can’t.
The researchers hope that their accomplishment will pave the way for a new generation of robots. They will likewise be capable of investigating hard-to-reach areas autonomously. They could also be in use in mining, construction, or even disaster relief to locate survivors buried beneath the rubble.
Their research can be in use to create more lifelike prosthetics or also to equip robots with the ability to wrap around and lift oddly shaped heavy objects.
The breakthrough builds on prior work by the University of Glasgow’s Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies (BEST) group. Then, it discovered new techniques to incorporate flexible electronics into deformable surfaces.
Details about stretchy robot worms
They were able to incorporate intrinsic strain sensors into worm-like robots. They are about 4.5 centimeters long. Also, they have a ‘skin’ made of Ecoflex. It is a type of stretchable plastic, and a graphite paste produced by the team.
The robots move around a metal surface with the help of tiny permanent magnets. They attach to either end of their tubular bodies. By monitoring the electrical resistance of the graphite paste, which changes when the robots’ bodies expand, the sensors in their skin allow them ‘sense’ their movements concerning their bodies. The body contracts again when the resistance reaches a preset maximum value, propelling it forward.
Proprioception is a vital characteristic of many forms of biological life
Professor Ravinder Dahiya is from the University of Glasgow’s James Watt School of Engineering. He also heads the BEST group, which developed the system.
Professor Dahiya said: “Proprioception is a vital characteristic of many forms of biological life, and scientists have long been inspired to try and develop engineered systems which mimic this ability.
“Our bioinspired robots are a step towards creating soft, flexible robot systems capable of the infinite directions of movement that nature has created in inchworms and earthworms.
“The ability of soft robots like these to adapt to their surroundings through seamlessly embedded stretchable sensors could help autonomous robots more effectively navigate through even the most challenging environments.”
The team’s paper, titled ‘Bioinspired Inchworm and Earthworm like Soft Robots with Intrinsic Strain Sensing’, is issued in Advanced Intelligent Systems. The research got funds from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the European Commission.