A tiny robot that could one day help doctors perform surgery was inspired by the incredible gripping ability of geckos and the efficient locomotion of inchworms.
The new robot, developed by researchers at Waterloo Engineering, utilizes ultraviolet (UV) light and magnetic force to move on any surface, even up walls and across ceilings.
It is the first soft robot of its kind that doesn’t require connection to an external power supply, enabling remote operation and versatility for potential applications such as assisting surgeons and searching otherwise inaccessible places.
“This work is the first time a holistic soft robot has climbed on inverted surfaces, advancing state-of-the-art soft robotics innovation,” said Dr. Boxin Zhao, a professor of chemical engineering. “We are optimistic about its potential, with much more development, in several different fields.”
Dubbed GeiwBot, the robot was created from a smart material that can be molecularly changed to resemble how geckos stick and unstick their powerful grippers on their feet.
Zhao and his team built GeiwBot utilizing synthetic adhesive pads and liquid crystal elastomers. Essentially, a light-responsive polymer strip simulates an inchworm-like arching and stretching action. On the other hand, gecko-inspired magnet pads perform the grabbing at either end.
This allows the four-centimeter-long, three-millimeter-wide, and one-millimeter-thick robot to climb a vertical wall and cross a ceiling without being connected to a power source.
In addition to potential surgical applications via remote operation inside the human body, the robot may be deployed to search dangerous or hard-to-reach places during rescue operations.
Researchers said the next step is to develop a solely light-driven climbing soft robot that doesn’t require a magnetic field and uses near-infrared radiation instead of UV light to improve biocompatibility.