Researchers have developed a soft, worm-like robot that moves similarly to inchworms, and could one day be used in rescue and reconnaissance missions inaccessible to humans or larger robots.
Seoul National University's Wei Wang and his team constructed an inchworm mold using a three-dimensional printer, and then poured a silicone solution into the mold. They then glued small pieces of polyimide film to make the front and rear appendages, while muscle fibers were replicated using eight longitudinal shape memory alloy (SMA) wires that extend throughout the inchworm robot's body.
The researchers could cause the robot's body to move with a natural inchworm gait when applying electric currents to the wires. Actuating the SMA wires symmetrically caused the robot's body to contract symmetrically, resulting in linear motion, while asymmetrical actuation resulted in a turning locomotion with one foot as an anchor. The researchers alternated between low-friction and high-friction foot segments to replicate these foot changes.
"We want to apply the locomotion and control algorithm of the inchworm-inspired robot to other motor-based robots in order to make quiet, flexible, yet load-carrying machines," says Seoul National University professor Sung-Hoon Ahn. "We also want to extend our smart soft composite technology to other types of mechanisms, such as soft artificial limbs, soft electronic appliances, transforming automobiles, etc."
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