Inspired by the movements of inchworms and earthworms, Engineers at the University of Glasgow have created robots with motion patterns capable of sensing the surroundings. Scientists believe super-stretchy wormlike robots that can ‘feel’ their environment might have been used in industry and prosthetics.
The team’s paper, titled “Bioinspired Inchworm and Earthworm like Soft Robots with Intrinsic Strain Sensing,” is published in Advanced Intelligent Systems.
These squishy, wiggle Robo worms are designed in a way that they can stretch up to nine times their own size and have a kind of proprioception, which is how biological creatures such as worms detect their location in space. This feature, which has never been shown in the realm of soft robotics previously, allows the robot worms to fit into tiny spaces that their stiff robot counterparts can’t.
The researchers believe that their achievement will pave the way for a new generation of robots capable of investigating hard-to-reach areas autonomously. They might be used in mining, construction, or even disaster relief to locate survivors buried beneath the debris.
It is also believed that such technology can be used in the field of prosthetics, or giving robots the capacity to wrap around and lift a variety of oddly shaped heavy things.
The University of Glasgow’s Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies (BEST) group’s previous research lead to this new invention of flexible and stretchy electronics capable of adjusting on deformable surfaces. They were able to include intrinsic strain sensors into the worm-like robots, which are around 4.5 centimeters in length, thanks to their experience. They have skin composed of Ecoflex, a flexible plastic, and a graphite paste created by the team.
The robots’ tubular bodies include tiny permanent magnets connected to either end that enable them to travel along a metal surface. By monitoring the electrical resistance of the graphite paste, which varies when the robots’ bodies expand, the sensors in their skin enable them to “feel” their motions in relation to their bodies. As when the body reaches its maximum resistance, it reaches back to its own size thus moves forward.
The BEST group, led by Professor Ravinder Dahiya of the University of Glasgow’s James Watt School of Engineering, created the system.
“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, Professor Dahiya said.
“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.”