Tuesday, April 25, 2017
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Soft Robot from Harvard Inches Through Tubes

The way the fiber is woven around each segment of expandable, red tube impacts its function. Photo courtesy of Harvard University.
The way the fiber is woven around each segment of expandable, red tube impacts its function. Photo courtesy of Harvard University.

Roboticists often try to built machines capable of moving through very tight spaces that humans can’t access. A new video from Harvard University’s Biodesign Lab shows a machine with a lot of promise in this area: a soft bot that can inch its way through tubes.

The robot is made primarily made of elastomeric tubes. Fibers are carefully woven around the outside of each tube so that it behaves in a certain way when expanded. The segments are connected  in series but controlled independently with pneumatics.

Some segments of the worm-like bot features a tight weave pattern that grows expands in length when inflated. Another segment has a fishnet weave that allows the bot to expand in width. When the fishnet segment at the back of the bot expands, it anchors the machine in the tube, so that it only extends in a forward direction when the tight weave patterns are inflated. The video shows how a segment on the end of the bot has fibers that spiral around the tube, which cause that part to twist so that male connectors fit into slots on the inside of the tube.

Soft robotics is still a very young field. This work lays an important foundation for more complicated devices to come.

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