This New Caterpillar-Like Robot Can Split, Rejoin, Haul Cargo, And Crawl Through Mazes

Engineers from Princeton and North Carolina State Universities have accomplished a ground-breaking soft robotics project by overcoming the difficulty of preserving flexibility while improving control in soft robots. The main breakthrough is the development of a flexible modular robot that blends modern materials science with traditional origami techniques to produce improved mobility and steering capabilities.

The modular cylinder pieces at the centre of this creative concept allow for autonomous operation or integration into a bigger unit. This modular design increases the robot’s adaptability and will enable it to handle cargo, negotiate complex paths, and take on different configurations. According to the researchers, modular soft robotics has the potential to facilitate the development of robots with the ability to grow, heal, and acquire new functions in the future.

A pivotal aspect of this project is the integration of origami-inspired structures into the robot’s design. Leveraging the Kresling pattern, researchers devised cylindrical segments capable of twisting into flattened disks and expanding back into cylinders. This dynamic motion facilitates the robot’s locomotion and directional changes, offering remarkable manoeuvrability.

The researchers used a unique approach combining polyimide and liquid crystal elastomer materials to address the problem of managing the robot’s bending and folding motions. Through electrical heating to produce differential expansion, the team achieved precise folding and bending by combining these materials into tiny strips along the creases of the Kresling pattern.

This innovative approach makes it possible to steer and drive the robot, a significant breakthrough in soft robotics. The research was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. journal

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