When it comes to robots inspired by biomimicry, we usually see bots that are better at running like cockroaches, or climbling like geckos. But we haven't seen one that uses the soft, squishy movement of animals like squid and starfish. These animals were just the inspiration for researchers at Harvard, who came up with this freaky little robot that can walk, wiggle, and shimmy itself under surfaces.
The BBC notes, "Professor George Whitesides, Robert Shepherd and their colleagues from Harvard University in Cambridge, US, said the work was inspired by animals such as squid and starfish that lack hard skeletons."
Just like the animals that inspired it, this robot may seem basic at first yet it is anything but simple. The squishy robot can move along like an inchworm, moving the front half and then pulling the back half up behind it; it can get up on all fours and walk like a dog; and it can squirm its way under an obstacle such as a door. It can even navigate textured surfaces as various as cloth, gravel and mud. And the movement is all based on air pumping into various compartments to keep it shifting along.
Check it out in action:
IEEE Spectrum reports, "And there's nothing solid in there at all: You could probably smash this thing with a hammer a whole bunch of times and it would still keep coming for you. And that's part of the idea. The other part of the idea is that soft robots can adapt themselves to squeeze through gaps (as in the vid above) and otherwise get into places that robots with rigid structures might not be able to."
Think of a starfish able to cram itself into tiny crags in a rock, or an octopus that can stuff itself into a jar. That's what the hopes are for soft robots such as this one. And this soft little robot (which I've taken to calling "squish bot") doesn't look that far off from just such a tide pool critter. Incredible.