Engineers Create Soft Robots that Grow Like PlantsEngineers Create Soft Robots that Grow Like Plants
Much like plants, the novel design uses light to stimulate growth
October 10, 2022
As the robotics industry develops, robots are becoming increasingly autonomous – capable of navigating and operating entirely independently in a number of environments. Now, researchers have created a robot that can grow and extend itself, much like a vine or any other reaching plant.
Typically, synthetic growth designs for soft robots use a similar process to a 3D printer. Material is pushed and shaped through an opening, creating a structure in the robot’s wake. However, this process uses solid materials which become cumbersome and tricky for the robot to pull around corners and require heat to transform the material into a solid structure.
By contrast, the novel design, developed by a team of scientists and engineers from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, used a technique called photopolymerization, which uses light to change liquid monomers into a solid mass, meaning the robots don’t have to drag solid materials behind it and can create a more flexible path.
“We were really inspired by how plants and fungi grow,” said Matthew Hausladen, first author of the study. “We took the idea that plants and fungi add material at the end of their bodies, either at their root tips or at their new shoots, and we translated that to an engineering system.”
This novel design would allow these soft robots to navigate complex, hazardous terrains and typically inaccessible areas, useful for applications such as search and rescue missions, installing subterraneous infrastructure or even navigating through the human body for biomedical purposes.
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