Jacob Aron, technology reporter
A squid-inspired robot that can limbo under small gaps could help rescue workers safely explore earthquake-hit areas or toxic waste spills.
“The squid is our hero, squids do incredible things,” says George Whitesides, who led the group building the robot at Harvard University. Squid tentacles are essentially long tubes of liquid surrounded by muscles that squeeze the liquid to provide motion. Whitesides’ soft robot mimics this principle with a body made from flexible plastics powered by a simple pneumatic system that uses air to curl its four limbs or arch its back. These cheap materials make the robot essentially disposable, meaning that it would not need to be recovered from a hazardous environment.
Whitesides had previously used a similar system to create a soft robot hand capable of picking up an egg, but his new creation focuses on moving rather than gripping. The squidbot can walk with a variety of gaits and is also able to squeeze under a two centimetre gap by undulating its body like a limbo dancer, as shown in the video above.
The robot is currently limited by a tail of attached cables that provide the air needed to make it move, but larger versions could be completely mobile. “It’s going to be very straightforward to make bigger ones that have an on-board gas source,” says Whitesides. Details of the robot were published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.