Wed. Oct 4th, 2023
    Enhanced Soft Robot Design Enables Autonomous Navigation Through Complex Mazes

    Researchers at North Carolina State University have made significant advancements in the field of soft robot design. They have developed a new robot that is capable of navigating complex mazes without the need for human or computer guidance. This robot is made of ribbon-like liquid crystal elastomers and possesses an asymmetrical design that allows it to turn independently and move in arcs.

    The previous version of the soft robot could only navigate simple obstacle courses and would often get stuck between parallel obstacles. However, the enhanced design of the new robot allows it to navigate more dynamic and intricate environments. The robot can make its way through twisty mazes and even negotiate its way around moving obstacles using physical intelligence rather than relying on external guidance.

    The physical intelligence of the soft robot refers to its behavior that is governed by its structural design and the materials it is made of. Unlike traditional robots that are controlled by computers or human intervention, the soft robot relies on its shape and materials to interact with its surroundings autonomously.

    The new soft robot has an asymmetrical shape, with one half resembling a twisted ribbon that extends in a straight line and the other half resembling a tightly twisted ribbon that twists around itself like a spiral staircase. This design allows one end of the robot to exert more force on the ground than the other end, enabling it to move in arcs.

    The robot is made of ribbon-like liquid crystal elastomers, which contract when placed on a surface that is hotter than the ambient air. This induces a rolling motion, and the warmer the surface, the faster the robot rolls.

    The researchers demonstrated the capabilities of this new design by testing the robot in more complex mazes, including those with moving walls. The robot was able to navigate these mazes and fit through spaces narrower than its body size. The design also prevents the robot from getting stuck between parallel objects, as its ability to move in arcs allows it to wriggle its way free.

    This research opens up possibilities for future soft robot applications, particularly in environments where the robots can utilize heat energy from their surroundings. It also showcases the potential of physical intelligence in developing innovative approaches to soft robot design.

    Source: “Physically Intelligent Autonomous Soft Robotic Maze Escaper” by North Carolina State University