Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a “brainless” soft robot that can autonomously navigate through complex environments using physical intelligence. The robot is made of ribbon-like liquid crystal elastomers and is set in motion when placed on a surface hotter than ambient air, with the warmer the surface, the faster it rolls.
Unlike their previous model, which could only turn upon encountering obstacles, the new soft robot is capable of turning on its own. This unique movement is achieved through an asymmetrical design, with one half exerting more force on the ground than the other. This allows the robot to move in arcs, traverse dynamic mazes, and even wiggle its way out between parallel obstacles.
The soft robot operates through “physical intelligence,” meaning its behavior is dictated by its structural design and material, eliminating the need for computer or human guidance. This innovative approach to soft robot design opens up possibilities for applications where robots can harvest heat energy from their environment.
The researchers successfully demonstrated the robot’s ability to navigate more complex mazes, including those with moving walls, and fit through spaces narrower than its body size. They tested the robot on both metal surfaces and in sand.
This groundbreaking development in soft robotics provides a promising step forward in the field, allowing for autonomous navigation in unknown and unstructured environments. The research paper detailing the design and capabilities of the “brainless” soft robot will be published in the journal Science Advances.
Source: North Carolina State University
– Soft robot: A robot that is made from flexible and deformable materials, allowing it to move and interact with its environment in a more natural and adaptable way compared to traditional rigid robots.
– Physical intelligence: Refers to dynamic objects, such as soft robots, whose behavior is dictated by their structural design and materials rather than being controlled by a computer or human intervention.
Source: North Carolina State University (https://news.ncsu.edu/2021/09/soft-robot-more-complex-navigations/)