American engineers have created Meshworm, a robot that mimics the movements of a worm – it crawls on surfaces, shrinking segments of its body.
The technique allows the machine to be made of soft materials so that it can drill through narrow spaces and form in uneven terrain.
It can also absorb strong shocks without suffering damage.
The Pentagon’s research unit, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), supported the Meshworm project, suggesting potential military use.
The work on the machine was carried out by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University in the United States and the National University of Seoul in South Korea.
Details are published in the magazine IEEE / ASE transactions in mechatronics.
“[The] a soft body that is essentially compatible, shows large strains and allows the robot to pass through small holes and regain its shape and survive high impact force when falling. “ wrote the engineers.
They added that the use of a worm-like motion helps reduce the noise produced by such machines, making them suitable “for intelligence purposes.”
Previous attempts to create such a robot have used gears and air or air pumps. But this adds to most machines, making them less practical for real needs.
Instead, the DARPA-backed team moved its machine using an “artificial muscle” made of nickel and a titanium wire designed to stretch and shrink with heat.
By wrapping this wire around a mesh-like tube, engineers reproduce the earthworm’s circular muscle fibers, creating different segments in the process.
When current is applied to a part of the wire, it shrinks, pressing the pipe.
The team created an algorithm to send a contraction wave through each of the five segments of the machine in turn, pressing the tube and driving it forward. This mimics the movement of its biological analogue.
They managed to make the robot move at a speed of about 5 mm per second (0.2 inches / sec).
Two additional “muscles” were added to the side of the machine to pull it left and right, allowing control of its direction.
The researchers say that the soft nature of the robot’s body allows it to be hit with a hammer and trampled without suffering any damage, as its shape has changed to absorb the blows.
“You can throw it away and it won’t collapse.” said Sangbay Kim, a mechanical engineering assistant at MIT.
“All parts in Meshworms are fibrous and flexible. The muscles are soft and the body is soft … [and] we begin to show some ability to transform the body. “
Meshworm is just one of several DARPA-funded animal-inspired projects.
Other examples include a robotic “cheetah” that can move at speeds of 18 km / h (29 km / h), a microsplane equipped with a hummingbird-like camera, and an AlphaDog, a four-legged robot designed to transport soldiers gear.