Think of a robot that can grow in size and twist around to reach the places that no human being can.The scientists at Standford University have made ‘Elasticgirl’ from DC comics real. Although not exactly a girl, it is a snake-like soft robot that navigates its environment by growing.
By taking the inspiration from the growth of natural organism such as vines, scientists have created a snake-like robot that increases its length to reach places otherwise physically inaccessible. The new pneumatic robot is capable of growing in length from the tip.The direction of growth can be controlled by on-board sensing of the environmental stimuli.The tip of the robot has a camera that can be used to sense the environment and based on that a goal destination can be given to the robot to grow.
The prototype is based on two principles. The first is the principle of eversion.The robot body is folded into itself like an inside-out sock. To elongate the tip, an internal pressure is applied that forces the internal material to evert out at the tip while pulling more material from the base. The number of turns the robot takes limits the extended length.The prototype which is initially 28cm can be elongated up to 72m with a few numbers of turn. The air pressure, as well as pressurized fluid, can be used to extend the length.
The second principle that allows controlling the direction is based on setting the length of either side as the tip grows. Small chambers that run along the side of robot acts as controlling input.When one of these chambers is inflated, the section of the robot body that is everting from the tip on that side will be lengthened. Hence by controlling the relative pressure of these chambers direction of elongation can be controlled. They demonstrated the real-time direction control of the tip in two dimensions by assigning an illuminated light bulb as the destination.
The robot can be used to navigate the environment for rescue and search operation. It can be given the shape of an antenna for communication. It may also be used to deliver supplies like sensor or water. The researchers now hope to make it much smaller and much larger to see how it works as stated in Standford News.