Soft robot: like a caterpillar, but ultra-fast
A new type of "soft" robot from the University of Linz moves like a caterpillar - and ultra-fast. Thanks to its contractions, it can also overcome obstacles, swim or grasp things. In short: a system with potential, especially in the field of human-machine interaction.
With the naked eye, it can hardly be followed, the new "soft robot" of the research group led by Martin Kaltenbrunner from the Department of Soft Matter Physics at the University of Linz. The inverted U-shaped system can be controlled so precisely with applied electricity that it can overcome obstacles, carry objects and cover distances "ultra-fast". There are still a lot of plans for this type of robot.
The small multi-layered rectangular structure made of deformable plastics (elastomers) has, besides a printed channel structure filled with liquid metal in its centre as well as "feet" at its two short ends. The structure, produced in a special 3D printer, results in the system curving in a U-shape. The movable metal grid can be controlled by electrical impulses and an external magnetic field. In this way, it is possible to switch very quickly between a little and a lot of curvature.
Faster than a Formula 1 car
Depending on the nature of the surface on which the "soft robot" moves, systems in which the movement impulse is transmitted externally via a connected contact achieve speeds of up to 70 body lengths of the structure per second. For comparison: a Formula 1 car manages around 50 body lengths per second.
The structure with battery and co. on the back particularly appealed to the researchers. Such an energy-autonomous system has never existed before. This is important because "the big dream" is that such mini-robot systems may one day be able to perform small operations in the body more or less independently, for example, or deliver active substances very specifically where they are needed.