The Future of Robotics: Seamless Transition Between Walking, Swimming, Crawling, and Rolling
Animals have the remarkable ability to adapt to different environments and shift between various modes of movement effortlessly. Unfortunately, most robots lack this versatility. However, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have made a groundbreaking discovery in the field of soft robotics that could change the game.
The Bistable Actuator: A Simple Solution
The team at Carnegie Mellon University has developed soft robots that can seamlessly transition between walking, swimming, crawling, and rolling. This achievement was made possible by the creation of a unique component called the bistable actuator.
The bistable actuator is made from 3D-printed soft rubber containing shape-memory alloy springs that react to electrical currents. When the springs contract, the actuator bends, allowing the robot to change its shape. Once the robot changes shape, it remains stable until another electrical charge morphs it back to its previous configuration.
Efficiency and Versatility
This new development eliminates the need for separate systems designed for each environment, reducing complexity and weight. For example, one of the robots created by the team has four curved actuators attached to a cellphone-sized body. On land, the curved actuators act as legs, enabling the robot to walk. In water, the bistable actuators change the robot’s shape, positioning the curved actuators as propellers for swimming.
Not only do these robots seamlessly transition between different modes of movement, but they also require only a hundred milliseconds of electrical charge to change their shape. Additionally, they have proven to be highly durable, withstanding extreme conditions and repeated shape changes.
The potential applications of these versatile robots are vast. Rescue situations could benefit from their use, as they can navigate both land and water effortlessly. These robots could also interact with sea animals or coral for research purposes. Moreover, the integration of heat-activated springs within the actuators opens up possibilities in environmental monitoring, haptics, reconfigurable electronics, and communication.
This breakthrough research opens doors to a world where robots can adapt and perform different tasks according to their environment, revolutionizing industries and creating exciting opportunities for innovation.
The research conducted by Carnegie Mellon University’s team, titled “Highly Dynamic Bistable Soft Actuator for Reconfigurable Multimodal Soft Robots,” was featured on the cover of the January 2023 issue of Advanced Materials Technologies. The team consisted of esteemed researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of California, Los Angeles.