Taking a few ideas from the “slippery world” of slugs and snails, and mixing all this with a fraction of modern technology, researchers from the University of Bristol created a small soft robot, ElectroSkin, that can crawl on various surfaces, including vertical ones. Robots built on a similar principle have a lot of possible applications, from cleaners and window washers to intelligence in the field of natural disasters and technological disasters.
The key technology used in the ElectroSkin robot is electro-adhesion. Due to the forces created by electric static charges, these robots are able to “stick” well enough to surfaces of any kind, which allows them to stay on vertical surfaces and even on the ceiling. Moreover, the same electrostatic forces allow the ElectroSkin to move like a snail. Electrostatic artificial muscles, when activated, stretch or vice versa, reduce the corresponding areas of the soft body of the robot, forcing it to move, mimicking the way the snail moves.
Thanks to its flexible and soft body, the ElectroSkin robot can be folded quite compactly during transport. But if he is freed, he will immediately assume his “working form” and will be ready to complete the tasks. Having equipped the robot with appropriate sensors and tools, it can be entrusted with the task of cleaning surfaces inside and outside, sending it inside destroyed buildings to search for surviving people, using it as a mobile environmental sensor and even a small computer capable of independent movements.
“Creating an ElectroSkin robot is a significant step towards creating soft robots that can be easily transported and also easily deployed and used for various tasks,” says Professor Jonathan Rossiter, Team Leader, “The combination we created artificial muscles and electrical grip will allow the ElectroSkin to operate in environments where other types of robots cannot work”.