A team of researchers from North Carolina State University in the USA has developed a flexible robot capable of navigating complex environments without human or computer guidance.
For those in a hurry:
- Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a flexible robot capable of navigating complex environments without human or computational guidance;
- The previous version of the robot had difficulty changing direction without encountering an obstacle, resulting in blocked positions between parallel obstacles;
- The new version of the robot features an asymmetrical design with two distinct halves, allowing it to rotate without coming into contact with an object and avoiding blockage between parallel obstacles;
- The robot is built using ribbon-shaped liquid crystal elastomers, which contract when in contact with a hot surface, generating motion.
- The robot demonstrated the ability to navigate complex mazes, including those with moving walls, and pass through spaces narrower than its body on metal surfaces and in sand.
In their previous work, the researchers demonstrated the ability of a flexible robot to maneuver around simple obstacles. However, this robot found it difficult to change direction without encountering any obstacle.
This often led to situations where the robot became stuck between parallel obstacles. But the new version of the robot was designed to overcome this limitation.
Intelligent “brainless” robot.
Now, he can navigate winding mazes and maneuver around moving obstacles, all thanks to his physical intelligence. This means that the robot makes decisions based on its structural design and the materials from which it is made, without relying on algorithmic guidance.
Flexible robots are made of strip-shaped liquid crystalline elastomers. When placed on a surface heated to at least 55°C, the portion of the tape in contact with the surface contracts, generating a rotational motion. The hotter the surface, the faster the robot moves.
The big innovation in this version is the asymmetrical design of the robot. While the previous half was symmetrical, this half has two distinct halves. One is in the form of a twisted strip that runs in a straight line, while the other is in the form of a more twisted strip, resembling a spiral staircase.
The concept behind the new robot is very simple: due to its asymmetrical design, it rotates without having to touch anything. So, while it still changes direction when it comes into contact with an object – allowing it to navigate mazes – it cannot get stuck between parallel objects. Instead, his ability to move in arcs allows him to break free, as if he were squirming his way out.
Yao Zhao, first author of the paper and a postdoctoral researcher at North Carolina State University
The researchers demonstrated the ability of this new robot to navigate complex mazes, including those with moving walls, and even pass through spaces narrower than its body. Tests were conducted on metal surfaces and in sand.
This advance not only represents a major breakthrough in the field of soft robotics, but also opens doors to applications where robots can harness the thermal energy of the environment. The study was published in the journal Advancement of science Supported by the National Science Foundation.
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