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May 27, 2022

Creating robots with no moving parts or computational ability which can navigate through mazes on their own

Filed under: Emerging Tech,Science Related — Suramya @ 11:34 PM

One would imagine that it takes skill or at least the ability to think to escape from a maze, unless you count running around like a headless chicken as a skill. However, Jie Yin and his colleagues at North Carolina State University have created a contraption that has no computational ability or moving parts but is still able to escape from a maze using trial and error.

The device is shaped like a pasta and is made from a rubber like material impregnated with liquid crystals. When this device is placed on a heated surface the parts in contact with the surface heat up and expand while the rest of the device remains the same this causes a twisting motion that allows it to roll at a speed of up to 3.8 millimetres per second. Even more interestingly this ‘robot’ can navigate a maze, when it reaches an obstacle such as a wall its orientation changes slightly and can sometimes continue moving. If that doesn’t work, then it continues to push against the obstacle which creates changes in the tension in the device allowing it to change the orientation of the arc’s on its surface to another direction, which would enable it to roll in the opposite direction. These two abilities enable it to continually change direction when meeting obstacles, bumping from surface to surface, eventually finding its way out despite lacking any intelligent control.

Autonomy is crucial for soft robotics that are constructed of soft materials. It remains challenging to create autonomous soft robots that can intelligently interact with and adapt to changing environments without external controls. To do so, it often requires an analogical soft “brain” that integrates on-board sensing, control, computation, and decision-making. Here, we report an autonomous soft robot embodied with physical intelligence for decision-making via adaptive soft body-environment interactions and snap-through instability, without integrated sensing and external controls. This study harnesses physical intelligence as a new paradigm for designing autonomous soft robots that can interact intelligently with their environments, thus potentially reducing the burdens on the conventional integrated sensing, control, computations, and decision-making systems in designing intelligent soft robots.

Soft robots that can harvest energy from environmental resources for autonomous locomotion is highly desired; however, few are capable of adaptive navigation without human interventions. Here, we report twisting soft robots with embodied physical intelligence for adaptive, intelligent autonomous locomotion in various unstructured environments, without on-board or external controls and human interventions. The soft robots are constructed of twisted thermal-responsive liquid crystal elastomer ribbons with a straight centerline. They can harvest thermal energy from environments to roll on outdoor hard surfaces and challenging granular substrates without slip, including ascending loose sandy slopes, crossing sand ripples, escaping from burying sand, and crossing rocks with additional camouflaging features. The twisting body provides anchoring functionality by burrowing into loose sand. When encountering obstacles, they can either self-turn or self-snap for obstacle negotiation and avoidance. Theoretical models and finite element simulation reveal that such physical intelligence is achieved by spontaneously snapping-through its soft body upon active and adaptive soft body-obstacle interactions. Utilizing this strategy, they can intelligently escape from confined spaces and maze-like obstacle courses without any human intervention. This work presents a de novo design of embodied physical intelligence by harnessing the twisting geometry and snap-through instability for adaptive soft robot-environment interactions.

This technology could be used to create cheap robots that can explore environments to take sensor readings and can potentially function inside the human body when made in microscopic scale. Since they don’t have any moving parts and don’t require power sources it would allow them to function for a longer duration than powered alternatives which would eventually run out of power. Plus, since they don’t require batteries it would be safer for people to ingest them without potentially harmful effects because most of the power sources in use today have some harmful chemicals in them.

The team’s findings have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) Journal: Twisting for soft intelligent autonomous robot in unstructured environments earlier this week.

Source: New Scientist: Pasta-shaped robot with no moving parts can navigate through mazes

– Suramya

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