Researchers have made progress in the development of soft robots that can navigate intricate mazes without human or computer assistance. The latest advancement involves the creation of a “brainless” soft robot that can navigate even more complex and dynamic environments. The study, titled “Physically Intelligent Autonomous Soft Robotic Maze Escaper,” was published in the journal Science Advances.
In previous work, researchers demonstrated that a soft robot was able to maneuver through simple obstacle courses. However, it faced difficulties when it came to making turns. The new version of the robot overcomes this limitation, utilizing physical intelligence to navigate twisty mazes and maneuver around moving obstacles.
This physical intelligence refers to the behavior of objects, such as soft robots, being guided by their structural design and materials instead of human or computer control. The soft robots in this study are made of liquid crystal elastomers, ribbon-like materials that respond to the temperature of the surface they are placed on. When on a surface hotter than the surrounding air, the robot rolls due to the contraction of the ribbon touching the surface.
Unlike the previous symmetrical design, the new robot has an asymmetrical structure. One end of the robot exerts more force on the ground than the other due to the twisted ribbon design. This asymmetry allows the robot to turn without the need for contact with an obstacle, enabling it to navigate mazes without getting stuck.
The researchers tested the robot’s ability to navigate through more complex mazes with moving walls and to fit through narrow spaces. The robot successfully maneuvered on metal surfaces and in sand. This development brings us closer to creating soft robots that can autonomously navigate various environments, with potential applications in fields such as search and rescue operations.
– Jie Yin, et al. “Physically Intelligent Autonomous Soft Robotic Maze Escaper.” Science Advances.
– North Carolina State University.