Inspired by the rippling locomotion of caterpillars,a new robot created by physicists at the University of Warsaw is significantly more impressive than it looks. The tiny translucent strip of elastic polymer is only a little over a centimeter long, but its capable of moving forward, climbing a slope, squeezing through small cracks, Exposure to light causes its body to contract in a wave-like ripple, propelling its body forward.By controlling the lighting conditions, the researchers were able to get the robot to perform different actions. The caterpillar robot can crawl up slopes, through tiny crevices, and can carry loads up to ten times its own mass.
Though other soft robots of this type have been built before, building them at the scale of nature has been difficult. Because of the molecular pattern of its material, known as Liquid Crystalline Elastomers or LCEs, the caterpillar-inspired bot moves when it is exposed to green light and lasers. It wrinkles in a fashion similar to a living caterpillar before extending its body again several millimeters forward.
"Designing soft robots calls for a completely new paradigm in their mechanics, power supply and control. We are only beginning to learn from nature and shift our design approaches towards these that emerged in natural evolution," the study's leader, Piotr Wasylczyk, said in a statement. The team's research was published in the journal Advanced Optical Materials