Researchers from the University of Toronto have created a miniature robot that can crawl using motion as an inchworm would use. The scientists say that the underlying tech has the potential to transform industries from aviation to smart wearables.
The group headed by Professor Hani Naguib specializes in smart materials. The second line of their research is in electrothermal actuators (ETAs), which are devices that are made of special polymers that can be programmed to respond to electrical or thermal changes physically. ETAs can be programmed to flex like a muscle tensing up when cold and relaxing when hot.
The team has applied the lines of their research to robotics and has created a soft robot that can crawl and curl. The team believes that one day, their soft robots could replace the bulky robots that are common in manufacturing industries. Naguib says that right now, the robots in heavy industry are heavy and solid machines that are separated from the workers due to the safety hazard the robots pose.
With increasing human-robot interactions, the need for soft and adaptable robots is growing. The team has a new approach to programming soft robots that results in the inchworm motion that is seen in the video below. The team created an ETA with a 3-dimensional resting state.
They used thermal-induced, stress-relaxation, and a curing method that opens more possibilities for shape and movement. The team says that the power needed to induce the inchworm motion is more efficient than anything that has existed in research literature so far. The tech behind the robot could revolutionize security, aviation, surgery, and wearable electronics. The most immediate impact will be seen in wearable technology with the team working to apply their tech to garments.