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Soft, squishy robotic worm looks uncannily like the real thing

Cassandra Khaw | Aug. 13, 2012
Don't like creepy-crawlies? You probably won't like the Meshworm, then. The result of a collaborative effort between researchers at MIT, Harvard University and Seoul national University, MeshWorm is a soft, autonomous robot that doesn't really mind being stepped on (or beaten repeatedly with a hammer).

Don't like creepy-crawlies? You probably won't like the Meshworm, then. The result of a collaborative effort between researchers at MIT, Harvard University and Seoul national University, MeshWorm is a soft, autonomous robot that doesn't really mind being stepped on (or beaten repeatedly with a hammer).

The Meshworm's artificial biology is a rather interesting one. Largely comprised from wires made out of nickel and titanium, the Meshworm moves the same way an earthworm does--by alternatively squeezing and stretching the muscles along the length of its body, a mechanism known as peristalsis.

So, why a robotic Earthworm Jim? Sangbae Kim, the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, explained that "such a soft robot may be useful for navigating rough terrain or squeezing through tight spaces."

One of the biggest challenges in soft robotics has been the need to design soft actuators, or motors, to power these robots. While compressed air, carefully pumped through a robot to move it, has been offered as a solution, Kim noted an inherent flaw: Pneumatic robots require bulky pumps. The Meshworm was engineered as an alternative.

The researchers made sure to thoroughly test their little creation. The robot was apparently trodden on and subjected to multiple blows from a hammer. Surprisingly, it survived.

Kellar Autumn, a professor of biology at Lewis and Clark College, noted that robots like the Meshworm may one day bring about next-generation endoscopes, implants and prosthetics.

 

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