"Gut-Sliding" Movement of Caterpillars Inspires Soft-Bodied Robots

little green caterpillar photo
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Photo by Anne Toal via Flickr CC

You're likely familiar with the way a caterpillar works its way up a stem or across a leaf -- that move-the-front-then-move-the-back process is one of their charms. But what you might not know is that a caterpillar actually moves its internal organs forward before moving its legs. A team of researchers at Massachusetts' Tufts University is working on soft-bodied robots and has looked to this quirk of caterpillars as biomimetic inspiration for their designs. The future of robots could lay with the comical blobs of color found inching their way around your back yard.

Gizmag writes that the team used "X-ray to observe large, opaque-bodied caterpillars, then backed up their findings by examining smaller, translucent caterpillars under a microscope."

They found that caterpillars move their internal center forward first, while keeping their middle legs still. This is an entirely new understanding in how creatures crawl.

"This type of two-body mechanical system has never been seen before, and is probably unique to soft, squishy animals," said team member Jake Socha, an assistant professor of engineering science and mechanics at Virginia Tech.

As Gizmag notes, the novel movement can be used in "softbots" including shape-changing search-and-rescue robots, zero-gravity space robots, and biocompatible medical robots. Here is a video abstract of the researchers' work: