Soft robots developed by North Carolina State University and the University of Pennsylvania are capable of navigating complex environments such as mazes without the assistance of humans or computer software.
Soft robots are developed based on a concept known as physical intelligence which means that structural design and smart materials, rather than computational intelligence, allow the soft robot to navigate various situations. The robot has a twisted ribbon shape and is capable of overcoming obstacles in a maze without human or computer control.
The soft robots are made of translucent rotini-like liquid crystal elastomers in the shape of a twisted ribbon. When you place the ribbon on a surface that is at least 55 degrees Celsius (131 degrees Fahrenheit) hotter than the ambient air, the portion of the ribbon that touches the surface contracts, while the portion exposed to the air does not. The ribbon begins to roll as a result of this. The faster it rolls, the warmer the surface. is a video of the ribbon-like soft robots.
It is accomplished in two ways by the ribbon robot. When one end of the ribbon comes into contact with an object, it rotates slightly to avoid it. Second, when the robot’s central part comes into contact with an object, it “snaps.” The snap is a sudden release of deformation energy that causes the ribbon to jump and reorient before landing. The ribbon may have to snap several times before finding an orientation that allows it to navigate the obstacle, but it always finds a clear path forward in the end.
The soft robot resembles the vacuum we use at home in many ways except that it draws energy from the environment and operates without any computer or human assistance.
“The two motions that allow the robot to handle obstacles, turning and snapping, function on a gradient,” says Yao Zhao, first author of the paper and a postdoctoral researcher at NC State. “When an object touches the center of the ribbon, the most violent snap occurs. The ribbon will still snap if an object contacts it further from the center, but it will be less strong. The snap becomes less prominent as you move away from the center until you reach the last fifth of the ribbon’s length, where there is no snap at all.”
The ribbon-like soft robot was placed in various maze-like environments for testing purposes. Also, the researchers conducted a test in desert areas showing they were capable of climbing and descending slopes of loose sand.
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