Robotic Fabric Could Inspect Engines, Deliver Drugs

The intelligent mesh, made up of several robotic modules, uses vibration motors to communicate and move

Scarlett Evans, Assistant Editor, IoT World Today

July 24, 2023

1 Min Read
Kilobots in mesh
Kilobots in meshUniversity of Sheffield

Researchers have created small-scale robots that can connect to one another and move as a unit, offering potential applications in industrial maintenance and biomedical procedures.

Created by a team from the University of Sheffield, the low-power robotic modules – known as Kilobots – are roughly the same size as a 50-cent piece and can connect via an elastic mesh. Once connected, the tiny robots march as one, creating an intelligent robotic fabric.

Each individual Kilobot uses a vibration motor to move, but cannot move accurately by itself. Only when connected to the others via the elastic mesh can it move precisely, with each of the modules communicating with one another to collectively move, much as a murmuration of birds moves harmoniously.

The team said its design demonstrates the benefits of using flexibly-linked robots, as opposed to unlinked or rigidly-connected units, with a flexible unit capable of performing delicate tasks efficiently and rapidly.

The team said its robotic fabric can navigate small, complex spaces such as underwater pipes, jet engines or even inside the human body for drug delivery and treatment.

"Previous studies have looked at intelligent fabrics that sense their surroundings or change appearance,” said Roderich Gross, study lead. “This study looks at intelligent fabrics that move from one place to another, meaning they could deploy themselves without human assistance. In the future, such fabrics could effectively navigate spaces inaccessible to humans, for example, for inspecting the inside of a jet engine.

"In the long term, self-moving, stretchable fabrics may be deployed in medical applications, for example, wrapping around a damaged section of an organ and then monitoring or stimulating it at high spatial resolution."

About the Author(s)

Scarlett Evans

Assistant Editor, IoT World Today

Scarlett Evans is the assistant editor for IoT World Today, with a particular focus on robotics and smart city technologies. Scarlett has previous experience in minerals and resources with Mine Australia, Mine Technology and Power Technology. She joined Informa in April 2022.

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