A recent breakthrough by Stanford University has produced a soft robot that grows like a vine and can carry a variety of payloads into situations that were previously inaccessible. The technology behind the robot is familiar, much like a balloon, in fact. But how the robot is constructed is what makes it so unique!
What is the robot made of?
The soft robot is made from plastic tubing, similar in construction to a balloon. The tubing is folded up inside of itself and can expand when needed to pass over or through difficult terrain. The robot can potentially be constructed from more resilient materials such as nylon and Teflon, but at this time, only plastic has been used.
How does the robot work?
The robot works in its current state by being filled with pressurized air to expand its body and move its payload forward. The robot’s payload is located at the end of the body which is folded up inside the rest of the body. As the channel; is moved, it can remain the same size, but if the robot runs into rough terrain, it can remain still and expand from the inside to progress.
One example of this is in the YouTube video linked below. The robot proceeds through a tight space that has been filled with nails without losing air pressure or compromising its payload in the process.
What are some potential uses for the robot?
This soft robot can be used for search and rescue operations, industrial applications such as wiring and crawl space maintenance, and even reconnaissance or military applications. The soft robot is depicted in the Stanford release carrying a copper antenna and extending up into the sky to boost signal reception.
This vine-like bot can even deliver payloads such as CO2 sensors or fresh air to individuals who are trapped or in other types of life-threatening situations.
How extensively has the robot been tested?
This bot has been tested in a wide variety of environments, ranging from tight spaces, heavy lifting, and even hazardous conditions such as moving over nails, flypaper, and into spaces as small as 1/10th its outer diameter. The robot can also be fitted with a camera and turn to adjust to its environment.
These conditions can be altered based on the material used, but so far, Stanford has only published tests with plastic tubing.