Researchers at Stanford University have produced a soft and flexible robot that “grows” like a vine. It is a flexible robot that ‘grows’ like a vine and can squeeze into tight places.
Structure of the vine Robot
The vine robot is the soft body and it is created with thin plastic that is folded into itself like an inside out stock. A machine that pushes pressurized air into that robot and that turns the plastic into the right side out into a long tube. The robot is now able to turn and spiral and makes movements depending on the design of the plastic. The robot can fit through tiny cracks and liquids. In one test, the robot was able to slide underneath a 100-kilogram crate and lift it off the ground.
The robot can went through an obstacle course like it went over flypaper, sticky glue and nails and up an ice wall to convey a sensor. That sensor has the capability to feel carbon dioxide generated by trapped survivors. It successfully completed this course even though it was punctured by the nails.
Advantage of the robot
The advantage of soft robots is that it can be safer than hard, rigid robots not only because they are soft but also because they are often lightweight. This is especially useful in situations where a robot could be moving in close quarters with a person.
Another benefit, in the case of this robot, is that it is flexible and can follow complicated paths. This, however, also poses some challenges.
Allison Okamura who is the professor of mechanical engineering and senior author of the paper said; “essentially, we’re trying to understand the fundamentals of this new approach to getting mobility or movement out of a mechanism. It’s very, very different from the way that animals or people get around the world”.
The researchers, led by Elliot W. Hawkes, plan to resize the prototype for different applications. Larger versions could be used to create robots that can maneuver into tight spaces in search and rescue operations, that would be difficult for hard-bodied robots to access. Smaller versions could be used for medical purposes, like inserting a catheter into a patient.