Harvard University Develops Robot That Crawls Like a Snake; You Won’t Want These in Your Boots…

Scientists at Harvard University have created a soft, tube-like robot with silicone rubber acting as its artificial skin. The laser-cut rubber used is a thin, stretchable plastic sheet, with the cuts, shaped like triangles or circles, look similar to the scales on the skin of snakes. The robot is able to move as air is pumped into the tube, which allows the robot to expand and contract, resulting in the scales to pop up and anchor against the ground, pulling the robot in a forward motion. As for moving backwards; the researchers are still trying to figure that out.

Ahmad Rafsanjani, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University, looked to “kirigami”, the Japanese art of paper cutting, to mimic the snakeskin. Using lasers to cut thin plastic sheets into lines, triangles, circles, and trapezoids, he then wrapped these skins around silicone rubber tubes powered by air that was either pumped through tubes, or a small control unit with onboard pump, battery, and sensors. The scaly rubber skin turned out to be so easy to make and negates the need for actuators, it saves time and energy for engineers. Rafsanjani and his colleagues ran trials with the different scale shapes, which resulted the trapezoidal ones proving to be the most effective, as they allow for traveling the longer stride.

According to a study published in Science Robotics, scientists demonstrated how artificial snakeskins could work against rough surfaces like asphalt and concrete. As far as advanced-and/or-future use goes, these tube robots could be used in disaster situations so the robots can access narrow spaces in-and-around rubble, or be scaled down to deliver drugs inside arteries.

Harvard researchers built a fully untethered, soft robot, with integrated on-board control, sensing, actuation and power supply packed into a tiny tail. (Ahmad Rafsanjani/Harvard SEAS)

[Thanks Harvard & WIRED]


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