On the biomimetic “soft robot” front, researchers at the University of Warsaw reported last month on an interesting design using liquid crystalline elastomer (LCE) that “wriggles” like a caterpillar when excited by laser light. The resulting wave of wriggles can move the small plastic sliver: it moves on its own muscle power. Different illumination gives it alternative “gaits”.
My understanding is that the light heats the material, which deforms. The “caterpillar” has layers which create travelling waves in response to the sweep of the laser.
“The robot can execute various tasks such as walking up a slope, squeezing through a narrow slit, and pushing objects, demonstrating its ability to perform in challenging environments. “
Anyone who has been invaded by caterpillars knows that their soft bodies and simple locomotion are extremely effective—they can get through the most unexpected entries.
This mechanism is entirely externally powered, the caterpillars have no power supply to run out. This particular version is steered by the external laser (and appears to have no ability to turn or reverse….). But I can imagine interesting things.
I could imagine a reconnaissance unit: a base station is delivered to a remote site that deploys and guides a swarm of “caterpillars”. The little pushers might deliver some sort of self-assembling origami robot, which might collect data and samples for return via caterpillar express. Rugged, light, and only the base station requires power supply.
- Mikołaj Rogóż, Hao Zeng, Chen Xuan, Diederik Sybolt Wiersma, and Piotr Wasylczyk, Light-Driven Soft Robot Mimics Caterpillar Locomotion in Natural Scale. Advanced Optical Materials (in prep), 2016. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/adom.201600503