If Star Wars’ R2-D2 is your idea of a robot, think again. Researchers led by a University of Houston engineer have reported a new class of soft robot, composed of ultrathin sensing, actuating electronics and temperature-sensitive artificial muscle that can adapt to the environment and crawl, similar to the movement of an inchworm or caterpillar.
Cunjiang Yu, Bill D. Cook Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering, said potential applications range from surgery and rehabilitation to search and rescue in natural disasters or on the battlefield. Because the robot body changes shape in response to its surroundings, it can slip through narrow crevices to search for survivors in the rubble left by an earthquake or bombing, he said.
“They sense the change in environment and adapt to slip through,” he said.
These soft robots, made of soft artificial muscle and ultrathin deformable sensors and actuators, have significant advantages over the traditional rigid robots used for automation and other physical tasks.