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April 12, 2023

Caterpillar Robot

Engineers at North Carolina State University have developed a caterpillar-bot that can move using a novel pattern of heated nanowires for control.

Credit: U.S. National Science Foundation

As we look to innovative technologies to help us solve real-life problems, in the realm of biomedical applications, soft robotics continues to show promise. We'll explore one mode of thermal controlled soft robotics in the U.S. National Science Foundation's "Discovery Files."

In the world of soft robotics, nature often plays an inspirational role, providing guidance when designing new forms and mechanisms. Supported in part by NSF, Engineers at North Carolina State University have developed a caterpillar-inspired soft robot capable of moving forward, backwards, and dipping under narrow spaces.

The energy-efficient crawling robot is actuated by a novel pattern of silver nanowires between two layers of liquid crystal polymer material. When sections of the nanowire are heated by an electric current, the two layers will react differently, the top expanding and the bottom contracting, allowing for controlled movement of the robot.

The researchers found that the more current applied the faster it would move but that there was an optimal cycle allowing the polymer layers time to cool and relax before moving again.

The control strategy opens exciting capabilities for smart and multifunctional soft robots. The next step involves outfitting the robot with sensors towards a potential use in search and rescue applications.

To hear more science and engineering news, including the researchers making it, subscribe to "NSF's Discovery Files" podcast.

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