Researchers develop robot that can move like an earthworm

If you liked creepy crawly things as a child and are now a tech junkie, why not combine the two and make a robotic earthworm?  Researchers from MIT, Harvard University, and Seoul National University have teamed up to create a soft autonomous robot that moves via peristalsis—crawling through contraction of segments in its body.

If you liked creepy crawly things as a child and are now a tech junkie, why not combine the two and make a robotic earthworm?  Researchers from MIT, Harvard University, and Seoul National University have teamed up to create a soft autonomous robot that moves via peristalsis—crawling through contraction of segments in its body.

Creepy crawlers like earthworms utilize circular muscle fibers that wraps around the body, and longitudinal muscle fibers that runs along the its length for motor function.  So in developing the robot, researchers set up a similar peristalsis-driven system using a tightly coiled nickel-titanium wire.

Nickel-titanium alloy changes phase when the temperature reaches a certain point.  In its austenite phase, the alloy springs back to its original shape even after it gets bent.  During the martensite phase, the alloy becomes a pliable structure and stays the way it is when the structure is altered.

Using a small battery, and small circuit board, the team developed an algorithm to help direct heat to a certain segment of the alloy coil and, therefore, creating a contracting and expanding movement for the robot.

For the longitudinal movement, the team outfitted the robot with wires along its length that contracts when heated, which then pulls the worm left or right.

Researchers have already begun seeing the benefits and applications for the robotic worm, and one being that it can be used to navigate rough terrains or squeezing through tight spaces.  Kellar Autumn, professor of biology at Lewis and Clark College, can even see the technology’s potential in implants and prosthetics. 

Source: MIT