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Surprising Science

Flexible Robots Imitate Caterpillars

Researchers at Tufts University’s Biomimetic Devices Laboratory are building robots that imitate the movement of caterpillars, one of the most efficient power-building animals in nature. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Researcher’s at Tufts University are reinventing the wheel. Not the wheel as we know it, but the wheel shape made by the body of a caterpillar when it need to move quickly, typically to escape a predator. “This change in body conformation occurs well within 100 milliseconds and generates a linear velocity over 0.2 m s−1, making it one of the fastest self-propelled wheeling behaviors in nature,” says the Tufts team’s report. The team is constructing a robot that mimics the caterpillar’s behavior called GoQBot. 

What’s the Big Idea?

The GoQBot seeks to overcome past limitations of robot design. While robot engineers typically have to decide between making a robot flexible or fast, the Tufts team uses a castable silicone rubber called Dragonskin that allows for robot flexibility. And by studying the movement of the caterpillar, which generates speed very efficiently by rolling itself into a ball, the team hopes to create a better kind of robot locomotion. The small size of a caterpillar robot, coupled with its flexibility, makes it ideal for a range of uses, including accessing very difficult to reach places during search and rescue missions. 


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