In a remarkable stride in robotics, scientists at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, University of Bristol, have unveiled the Tetraflex robot—a tetrahedron-shaped marvel with flexible piping that holds the potential to reshape the realms of mobility and exploration. This robotic creation promises to introduce a world of possibilities, spanning from disaster relief to ecological research.
The Tetraflex robot’s intricate design comprises soft struts connected by rigid nodes. Each strut, crafted from an airtight rubber bellow, can change its length by manipulating the air pressure within it. As lead author Peter Wharton elucidates, “Altering the pressure in the bellows allows us to extend or contract the struts. By controlling the pressure in each bellow simultaneously, we can orchestrate the robot’s transformation in both shape and size.”
What truly distinguishes Tetraflex is its unparalleled adaptability in locomotion. Thanks to its soft struts’ dynamic control, it can roll, crawl, and maneuver effectively. This versatility makes it ideal for navigating confined and challenging environments, such as disaster-stricken areas, oil rig inspections, and even exploring extraterrestrial terrains. Moreover, Tetraflex boasts the remarkable capability of encasing and transporting delicate cargo, potentially revolutionizing ecological surveys and nuclear decommissioning tasks.
The Tetraflex’s flexibility hinges on its soft-strut design, enabling it to morph into various forms and sizes, allowing it to roll, crawl, or encapsulate and transport objects. Peter Wharton underscores this point: “These capabilities emerge naturally from working with such a versatile structure, and we anticipate the development of other intriguing functionalities in the future.”
One of the most exciting prospects of Tetraflex is its potential to traverse terrains and undertake tasks that lie beyond human reach. With its array of gaits and object transport capabilities, it showcases its exceptional versatility.
Recently, Tetraflex demonstrated its prowess by securing third place in the RoboSoft 2022 Locomotion Competition held in Edinburgh. The robot elegantly maneuvered through sandy terrain, nimbly crossed small gaps, and adeptly navigated around obstacles.
Looking ahead, the research team envisions taking Tetraflex to the next level by integrating machine learning algorithms. This infusion of artificial intelligence will empower Tetraflex to further refine its movement patterns and unlock new modes of interaction with its environment. As Peter Wharton aptly summarizes, “There could be ingenious and highly efficient methods of traversing and interacting with the environment that we have yet to discover.”
The research findings, culminating in the Tetraflex robot, are detailed in the pages of the IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, marking a significant leap forward in the realm of shape-shifting, versatile robotics.