Scientists Create Wormbot
When I think of robots I generally picture them looking like Wall-e or maybe the killing machines from The Terminator. Just from writing for this site, I realize plenty of other styles of robots exist, but I can’t help being something of a child of pop culture. The last thing I think of when thinking of robots is worms.
Scientists from MIT, Harvard and Seoul National University (SNU) have combined talents to create an autonomous robot that looks and moves like a worm. The group has dubbed their new creation the “Meshworm,” named after the nickel and titanium mesh material that forms its body.
Drawing inspiration from nature, in this case specifically the earthworm, Meshworm mimics the movement of a worm by contracting and expanding parts of its body. This inching along is thanks to a shape-memory alloy wire that is wound around the mesh body. Locomotion is driven by a small current is applied to the wire, which squeezes the mesh.
Soft robots could be useful for a number of applications in which a tight squeeze could become an issue, or for difficult terrain. A soft body is also safer for humans to work with or as an exploratory tool for surgery. Previous efforts to create soft robots attempted to use air-power or pneumatic drives, but were deemed to bulky to be practical.
The Meshworm is tough as well as squishy, surviving attacks with a hammer and being stepped on.
“You can throw it, and it won’t collapse,” said Sangbae Kim, the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT. “Most mechanical parts are rigid and fragile at small scale, but the parts in Meshworms are all fibrous and flexible. The muscles are soft, and the body is soft … we’re starting to show some body-morphing capability.”
Below you’ll find a video that discusses the Meshworm.