The general notion about robots is that they are human like machines, however, that perception is changing since a plethora of robots emulating other creatures are being introduced. Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) have created one such robot that is, essentially speaking, a 3D printed, soft-shelled tentacle designed to navigate through all types of pipes, channels and burrows.
Snake-robot is definitely quite a versatile model and can be assigned various tasks such as inspection of nuclear plants, exploring Mars and assembling aircraft. If you compare this silicone rubber robot with other robots, you would realize in an instant that MIT’s robot isn’t held back by the restrictions imposed by fixed-joints and lack of mobility along with reduced flexibility. This particular robot comes with a group of hollow and individually inflatable channels which have been affixed on either side of the robot. Upon filling them with air, a change of shape occurs which enables any part of the arm to bend in the required direction. Controlling inflation and deflation of several parts over the arm can transform the robot into almost any sort of arc or curve.
Doctoral candidate Andrew Marchese, head of the design team, said, “Many so-called ‘soft’ robots have still had ‘hard’ elements, like high-pressure actuators and aluminum parts that hold everything together. Designing away all the hard components prompts us to think about the more difficult questions. Is it possible to do useful manipulation with a robot that’s as soft as chewing gum? To move a robot to a particular point in space, you have to determine the specific set of curved arcs needed to get there, which is a tricky task in itself. Now imagine moving it through a compact space like a pipe, and having a whole array of points that need to be reached over time. That goal makes the underlying programming much more complicated.”
The MIT CSAIL researchers will be presenting their work at the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS 2014) this month. This robot is, indeed, a laudable creation, isn’t it?
Check out this fantastic video: