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Surprising Science

Meet the Foam Changeshaper Robots

Robots are usually designed with very specific tasks in mind. But the “foambot”, though it looks ungainly, lets you decide on the task and build on the spot.  

What’s the Latest Development?

The Modular Robotics Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania has created a robot that can be assembled from foam that hardens and pieces that allow the robot to move. The “foambot” looks ungainly, and it is. But once you have a shape, and a task, in mind, the foam sprayer can lay down a body plan that fits. Need  a snake-like bot that can move into small, narrow spaces? No problem. Or arrange the modular parts in another pattern for a more conventional four-legged arrangement.

What’s the Big Idea?

A key advantage of this kind of construction is that you don’t need to know what your robot has to do beforehand. This has applications in areas such as space exploration, where building a robot that can crawl, slither or climb allows for exploring an unknown landscape, or rescue operations, where the situation is unknown and it isn’t clear what you need a robot to do (crawl through small spaces or clamber over rubble, or both).


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