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In a Lab in Poland, Plastic That Can Crawl

The caterpillar robot in mid-move.

The University of Warsaw developed a robot caterpillar that uses an external laser to move.

Credit: Neeti Upadhye

Researchers at Poland's University of Warsaw have developed a robotic caterpillar that can move across a surface by itself when it is exposed to a specific shade of green laser light.

When the light strikes the robot, it scrunches into a series of undulating shapes that run down its length in wavelike spasms. In addition, the robot can carry 10 times its weight while in motion.

The robotic caterpillar consists of a type of plastic known as liquid crystalline elastomers. The laser light powers the robot by pinpointing and changing the shape of specific molecules in the plastic.

Other types of soft robots draw energy from ordinary visible light or electromagnetic fields rather than lasers.

"The idea is just starting in science that robots can be something without wires and batteries and motors," says University of Warsaw researcher Mikolaj Rogoz. "It can be just fragments of plastic and energy, and the energy source can be provided from outside the robot."

Although it is difficult to know how this kind of invention will be used, Rogoz suggests the robot could be inserted into the human body to transport medicines to the right organs.

From The New York Times
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