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Meshworm Robot Inches Along Just Like Fish Bait
Researchers build soft, crawling robot that gets around via ‘peristalsis,’ the same squeezing and stretching of muscles used by worms, snails, and other creepy-crawly invertebrates.
As they’ve done since the dawn of life, the worms crawl in and the worms crawl out only now one of them is using wires and springs to do it.
Researchers at MIT, Harvard, and South Korea’s Seoul National University this week revealed a soft, crawling robot that gets around via “peristalsis,” the ambulatory mechanism of squeezing and stretching muscles along the length of the body used by earthworms, snails, and other creepy-crawly invertebrates, MIT News reported.
The team’s “Meshworm” has a flexible tube for a body and a thin wire “muscle” made of a nickel and titanium shape-memory alloy that’s wound around the tube to create worm-like segments on the robot (see video below). The application of heat in the form of an electrical current causes the wire muscle to stretch and contract, propelling Mesworm forward inch by inch, the scientists explained in the current issue of the journal IEEE/ASME Transactions on Mechatronics.
MIT researcher Sangbae Kim told MIT News that the team opted for a shape-memory alloy-based locomotive system because previous efforts in soft robotics using compressed air motors and pumps resulted in bulkier robots than they wanted.
“Integrating micro air compressors into a small autonomous robot is a challenge,” he told the university science journal.
Instead, Kim and his colleagues said they studied earthworms and how their musculature functions to come up with their design.
Because it is almost entirely comprised of soft materials, Kim said Meshworm is remarkably durableapparently it can be pounded with hammers and scarcely miss a beat as it moves along. The robot’s design may be useful for future prosthetics, he said.
Meshworm is the latest in a growing number of robots based very closely on body and locomotive designs found in nature, joining the jellyfish-based Robojelly and the scurrying, ledge-swinging, cockroach-like DASH robot.
Robojelly is a submersible robot that uses eight contracting “muscles” to eject water and propel itself forward, while DASH is a six-legged robot that uses cleverly placed Velcro strips to replicate the natural grappling abilities of cockroaches and geckos.
By Damon Poeter, PCMag