Researchers have developed a small and squishy robot that packs a tonne of innovations and holds immense promise for a number of applications including search and rescue missions after disasters, deep space and planet exploration, and manipulating objects during magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) among others.
Developed by researchers at Rutgers University, the squishy robot features a soft motor that provides torque without bending or extending its housing. Published in journal Advanced Materials, the study that led to the development of the vehicle also introduces a wheel and axle assembly that is completely different from what we have seen so far and isn’t found anywhere in nature.
While squishy overall design should enable vast improvement in the manipulation and mobility of devices, its soft wheels may allow for passive suspensions in wheeled vehicles. The wheels use peristalsis, the process people use to push food to the stomach through the esophagus.
Some of the other features of the squishy vehicle include a consolidated wheel and motor with an integrated “transmission”; soft, metal-free motors suitable for harsh environments with electromagnetic fields; the ability to handle impacts; and the ability to brake motors and hold them in a fixed position without the need for extra power.
To create the vehicle, the Rutgers engineers used silicone rubber that is nearly 1 million times softer than aluminum. The motors were made using 3-D printed molds and soft lithography, and a provisional patent has been filed with the U.S. government.
Future possibilities include amphibious vehicles that could traverse rugged lakebeds; search and rescue missions in extreme environments and varied terrains, such as irregular tunnels; shock-absorbing vehicles that could be used as landers equipped with parachutes; and elbow-like systems with limbs on either side.