Soft Robot Mimics EarthwormsCategory: Science & Technology
Posted: August 13, 2012 07:10PM
Researchers have been working for some time to create a soft body robot as it can be more resilient than typical rigid bodies, which could then allow it to traverse difficult terrain. Powering such a robot has been a challenge though as soft body motors are still in development and using compressed air requires large components. Researchers at MIT decided to try something new by mimicking the motion of earthworms.
Earthworms, amongst other things, move by stretching and contracting their bodies in a sequence with muscles that wrap around their bodies. To turn they use muscles that run the length of their body. The researchers replicated both of these muscle groups with a titanium nickel alloy that changes properties when it heats up. Normally the alloy is pliable, like a paperclip, but when heated it will align itself to its original shape. If you were to make a paperclip out of this material you could, in principle, bend the paperclip to any shape, throw it in the oven, and when you pull it out, it is like new.
To test the soft body design the researchers did more than just watch it move when powered. They also took a hammer to it and stepped on it, without damaging the soft body. Potentially we could see this technology used for medical devices and search robots.