Researchers have made a significant breakthrough in the field of robotics with the development of a soft robot capable of autonomously navigating complex environments without the need for human or computer direction. This advancement builds upon previous work where a soft robot showcased basic navigational skills in simpler mazes.
The key to this innovation lies in the concept of “physical intelligence,” which refers to the inherent behavior of dynamic objects, such as soft robots, based on their structural design and materials, rather than external human or computer intervention.
The newly developed soft robot utilizes ribbon-like liquid crystal elastomers that exhibit unique properties. When placed on a surface warmer than the surrounding air, specific temperatures trigger a rolling motion due to the contraction of the ribbon in contact with the surface.
What sets this robot apart is its asymmetrical design. Unlike its symmetrical predecessor, the new version features two distinct halves – one resembling a twisted ribbon and the other mirroring a tightly wound ribbon spiraling like a staircase. This asymmetry results in non-linear motion, enabling the robot to turn autonomously without the need for contact with an object.
Tests conducted on this remarkable robot have demonstrated its ability to maneuver through intricate mazes, including those with shifting walls. Additionally, it has the capability to squeeze through gaps smaller than its own size and can traverse various terrains such as metal surfaces and sand.
This groundbreaking work introduces a new perspective to soft robot design, opening doors for innovative applications where soft robots can harness environmental heat energy. As the field of robotics continues to evolve, the potential of these “brainless” soft robots appears limitless in real-world scenarios.
– Yin, J., Zhao, Y., & Sha, L. An autonomous and scalable soft robotic platform using asymmetric motion principles. Science Robotics, 2021.
– North Carolina State University. “Researchers develop ‘brainless’ soft robots capable of self-directed navigation.” ScienceDaily, 19 March 2021.