Tiny robots move like caterpillars, powered by light

Researchers build soft robots that can walk, climb and push objects

What if robots could be powered by light instead of bulky battery packs or movement-limiting power cables?

That's the scenario that scientists at the University of Warsaw are envisioning.

Researchers have developed a half-inch-long so-called soft robot that mimics the movements of a caterpillar. It's powered by light and controlled by a laser beam, according to the university.

"Designing soft robots calls for a completely new paradigm in their mechanics, power supply and control," said Piotr Wasylczyk, head of the Photonic Nanostructure Facility at the University of Warsaw, in a statement. "We are only beginning to learn from nature and shift our design approaches towards these that emerged in natural evolution."

This micro-robot is designed to move along flat surfaces, climb inclines, carry loads and squeeze through narrow openings.

One of the big challenges of building useful robots is figuring out movement. How do you create a robot that can move easily, balance itself and not use a tremendous amount of energy to do it?

For years now, scientists have been looking to nature for inspiration.

A little over two years ago, for instance, researchers at MIT built an autonomous robot that mimics a fish, moving a robotic tail that enables it to change direction in a fraction of a second.

Other scientists have built a small, flying robot that moves like a jellyfish , while yet others designed small bat-like flying robots .

Researchers at the University of Warsaw went with a soft robot because many creatures, like worms, snails and caterpillars, use their soft bodies to move well in complex environments.

Then they added liquid crystalline elastomers, a hybrid material with elastic properties, to the equation.

This material actually can change shape when illuminated with visible light. Scientists applied the illumination with a laser beam.

By forcing the changes in a particular pattern and at a particular speed, researchers can create what mimics the gait of natural creatures, enabling the robot to walk, climb and even push objects that are 10 times its own mass, according to the university. What if robots could be powered by light instead of bulky battery packs or movement-limiting power cables?

That's the scenario that scientists at the University of Warsaw are envisioning.

Researchers have developed a half-inch-long so-called soft robot that mimics the movements of a caterpillar. It's powered by light and controlled by a laser beam, according to the university.

"Designing soft robots calls for a completely new paradigm in their mechanics, power supply and control," said Piotr Wasylczyk, head of the Photonic Nanostructure Facility at the University of Warsaw, in a statement. "We are only beginning to learn from nature and shift our design approaches towards these that emerged in natural evolution."

This micro-robot is designed to move along flat surfaces, climb inclines, carry loads and squeeze through narrow openings.

One of the big challenges of building useful robots is figuring out movement. How do you create a robot that can move easily, balance itself and not use a tremendous amount of energy to do it?

For years now, scientists have been looking to nature for inspiration.

A little over two years ago, for instance, researchers at MIT built an autonomous robot that mimics a fish, moving a robotic tail that enables it to change direction in a fraction of a second.

Other scientists have built a small, flying robot that moves like a jellyfish , while yet others designed small bat-like flying robots .

Researchers at the University of Warsaw went with a soft robot because many creatures, like worms, snails and caterpillars, use their soft bodies to move well in complex environments.

Then they added liquid crystalline elastomers, a hybrid material with elastic properties, to the equation.

This material actually can change shape when illuminated with visible light. Scientists applied the illumination with a laser beam.

By forcing the changes in a particular pattern and at a particular speed, researchers can create what mimics the gait of natural creatures, enabling the robot to walk, climb and even push objects that are 10 times its own mass, according to the university.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?