A team of engineers from the University of Glasgow has developed robots that move like earthworms.
Earthworms can stretch nine times their original length and have a form of proprioception – this is the method by which biological organisms perceive their position in space. The authors of the new work were inspired by these properties and made new robots.
Previously, soft robots could not perceive what was happening around. In addition, they, unlike conventional robots made of rigid materials, can squeeze into shallow openings.
The researchers hope that their new development will lead to the creation of a new generation of robots capable of autonomously exploring hard-to-reach places. They can also be used in mining, construction or even disaster relief.
The development is based on previous research by scientists from the University of Glasgow: the authors of the new work used developments to embed flexible electronics into a deformable surface.
The result is worm-like robots about 4.5 cm long. They are covered in leather made from elastic plastic and graphite paste.
Tiny permanent magnets attached to both ends of the robots’ bodies help them move around the metal surface. And sensors in the skin help to estimate how much the body is stretched and whether it needs to be compressed.