A team of mechanical engineers at the Stanford University developed a vine-like robot that can grow over long distances keeping its body intact. Researchers believe that further development may help create robots that could help in rescue operations and medical operations, that cannot be done by man alone. Scientists believe that the growing robot is a valuable addition to the artificial intelligence.
The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.
Growing Robot is the latest addition to the Artificial Intelligence
The research was inspired by natural organisms that grow over long distances such as vines, fungi and nerve cells. The vine-like robot or vinbot is made of a soft tube-like material, folded inside itself, similar to an inside out sock. When the material at the front part turns outwards, the vinbot grows in a particular direction. What the scientists consider as a breakthrough is that the vinbot grows at the tip, without moving the entire body. This addition to the artificial intelligence is going to change the way we think about rescue operations.
Elliot Hawkes, a visiting assistant professor from the University of California, Santa Barbara, explained that the body lengthens as the material extends from the end but the rest of the body doesn’t move. She further added that the body can be stuck to the environment or jammed between rocks but that doesn’t stop the robot since the tip can still continue to progress as new material is added to the end.
The research team carried out multiple tests on the robot. Under certain test conditions, the robot lifted a 100-kilogram crate to prove its lifting capacity. The robot also grew under a door gap that was only 10 percent of its diameter and spiraled on itself to make a free-standing structure. The artificial kid then sent out a radio signal. It proved to be able to navigate unknown obstacles by maneuvering through the space above a dropped ceiling and so on.
The group subjected the robot to some obstacle tests as well. It was done n order to get the robot to move from one place to another. It was observed that it grew through an obstacle course, where it traveled over flypaper, nails and sticky glue, and up an ice wall to deliver a sensor, which could potentially sense carbon dioxide produced by trapped survivors. This test gives an insight into the potentials of such a type of robot in the future.
The current prototype of the robot was built by hand and is powered using pneumatic air pressure. The researchers aim to manufacture these robots automatically in future. They are also considering other alternatives for the material used to manufacture the robot. Prospective materials include tougher materials such as rip-stop nylon and Kevlar. They also plan on making prototypes of different sizes by scaling them down and up.
Medical field will benefit a lot from such kind of robots, since they can be used in medical procedures and operation where these growing robots may be inserted into the body, instead of using tubes that need to drag along delicate structures through the body.
These soft robots due to their light-weight may be used in situations where the robot needs to be in close quarters with a person. These robots are flexible as well, hence they can follow complicated paths with ease.
One of the major problems that need to be solved is the mechanism to control the soft robot since soft robots are harder to control, compared to rigid robots. Another issue is that it is difficult to guide the robot to a target using a camera as the camera imagery needs to be processed at the rate it is produced. Yet, this new addition to the artificial intelligence is going to make considerable improvements in robotics.