Robot researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a robot with a retractable “limb” that accurately simulates the process of plant growth. Thanks to this, the robot, called “growing robot”, is able to move along a difficult path through a limited space before performing the final task of lifting a heavy load or other similar actions.
The limb of the robot has a structure very similar to a bicycle chain, which is flexible enough to bend along a difficult path, and which is strong enough to provide significant force or torque. The “bicycle chain” of the robot consists of segments printed on a 3D printer, which can be extended and fixed, giving the robot limbs a certain stiffness.
A miniature winch and several additional electric motors are used to stretch the “chain”, which can be programmed to fix the robot limbs in a specific configuration. After completing the process of such “plant growth”, the robot can remove the fixation of the chain segments, rewind it and begin the process of “growth” along a different path that satisfies the condition of the next task.
The robot “growing robot” is designed with the aim of solving the so-called “last foot problem”, which is the answer to the question of how exactly the robot can perform the last task after it reaches its goal. After all, it very often happens that a robot, having reached its goal, simply cannot physically cope with the final part of the task, which was very clearly demonstrated by robots used for reconnaissance in the emergency reactor rooms of the Japanese Fukushima nuclear power plant.
“A good example of the“ last foot problem ”and the possible use of such robots is the lubricant change procedure in your car’s engine,” says Professor Harry Asada, “after you raise the hood, you need to be flexible enough to to go through a winding path and get to the oil filter, which, as a rule, is installed in the most uncomfortable place for access at the bottom of the engine, and after that you need to make a big effort to break the sticky metal rubber seal of the filter. ”
Note that the robot “growing robot” is far from the first attempt to solve the “last foot problem”. However, in previous attempts at solutions, soft materials, inflatable and other elements were used that were not very well designed to hold and work with tools, specialized grips, etc. The technology, implemented in the form of a “growing robot”, provides a sufficiently high strength of the final design of the robot, which is able to operate with tools and devices weighing up to 0.5 kilograms.
In conclusion, it should be noted that the robot “growing robot” was one of many robots presented to the public at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) this year.