Tentacles of War: Army Is Developing Schools of 3-D Printed Robot Squid Like Those in 'The Matrix'
If you played a word-association game inspired by the United States Army (or any army, for that matter) the phrases would probably have hard-hitting, rough-and-tough connotations. Military forces are supposed to be aggressive and intimidating but, according to reports, these weapons the Army is adding to its arsenal are the exact opposite.
Inspired by invertebrates, the US Army Research Laboratory and the University of Minnesota are developing soft robots that are less like The Terminator and more like "covert-ops squid." The robots are designed to maneuver in and around tight spaces – like under doors and through cracks – because sometimes being stealthy and flexible is better than being strong and indestructible.
"Successful stealthy maneuvering requires high structural flexibility and distributive control to sneak into confined or restricted spaces, operate for extended periods and emulate biological morphologies and adaptability," said Army Research Lab scientist Dr. Ed Habtour. Each component of the DEA (dielectric elastomer actuator) prototype is 3D printed, making this flexible robot the first of its kind. The process took some trial and error – the goal is to give soldiers the ability to print these robots on-site. The method needs to be quick, simple to operate, and adaptable to the field.
"Unlike current 3-D printed DEAs, the new fabrication method does not require post-processing steps, such as assembly, drying or annealing," said Ghazaleh Haghiashtiani, the lead on the robot study recently published in Extreme Mechanics Letters.
Habtour called the findings an "important stepping stone towards providing the soldier an autonomous freeform fabrication platform – next-generation 3-D printer, which can print functional materials and devices – to generate soft actuators and potentially tetherless soft robots on demand, on the fly and at the point of need."
I would also call it a step closer to shape-shifting robots which, let's face it, is what the world really wants.