Watch This Inflatable 'Soft Robot' Grow Like a Vine and Move Like a Snake
There are a lot of people out there trying to make robots more human-like, but one group of researchers has created a robot that resembles both the movement of a snake and the twirling upward growth of a vine. Wrapping around the air and curling towards the sky, this soft, tubular robot grows and moves because of its own internal pressure. According to its creators, it can "extend from its tip to thousands of times its original body length at a speed comparable to animal and robotic locomotion," according to a paper published in Science Robotics. Here's the robot in action, courtesy of Stanford University:
You might think that these scientists discovered an alien snake species, as it travels across the room and turns a valve. Growth, as discussed in by Joey Davis Greer in an interview with The Verge, is a movement not usually explored in the field of robotics. "The tip of the growing robot behaves like half of a water wiggle toy and the other half of the robot is fixed at its base," he said. Greer is confident that exploring this plant-like navigation will propel us forward.
As for the potential applications for this robot, its incredible ability to squeeze into tight spaces might make it ideal for reaching areas that humans and more rigid robots might not be able to. According to Greer, "One thing we found with this growing robot, is that it is surprisingly difficult to stop it from lengthening when it is pressurized—if there is a way it can extend, it probably will."
This vine-like robot is a new development, so its full range of applications hasn't yet been realized. But aboard the International Space Station or in the cleanup of Fukushima, for examples, soft robots with the ability to grow could be essential. The authors of the paper even suggest that it could be used for medical purposes, like helping to guide medical catheters. Sounds a little scary, but these soft vine-like growing robots could make future medical procedures easier by navigating through your organs.