Gummi Bots: Biomimetic Soft-Bodied Robots
Biomimetic soft-bodied robots are the result of a robotics project at Tufts University. Researchers like Barry Trimmer are gathered from many different fields; Trimmer's field is neurobiology, and his studies of the tobacco hornworm provide unaccustomed lessons for roboticists.
(The Biomimetic Technologies for Soft-bodied Robots project)
Hard-bodied, rigid mechanical robots have many limitations; their joints limit range of motion. The Tufts researchers are looking into robots with a skin made of a silicone rubber (brand name: Dragon Skin). The soft-bodied robots wriggle forward with springs embedded in the silicone rubber segments. As a current is passed through a spring, it contracts, bending the robot.
In this way, the "Gummi Bot" (that's my name for them - TM Technovelgy.com!) can wriggle forward like a caterpillar. So far, researchers have been able to propagate a ripple of movement the length of the robot's body. By the end of the year, the team hopes to have full caterpillar motion.
The eventual design goal is to have soft-bodied robots that are able to perform disagreeable tasks in the field, like looking for land mines or finding their way into hard-to-reach spaces in dangerous environments (like nuclear reactors or space craft).
The Tufts researchers would do well to take a look at some of these other soft-bodied and biomimetic research robots:
Via NYTimes (registration required).
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