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Robotics Technology

New 'Rubber Robot' Crawls Through Small Spaces With Inflatable Limbs 56

JoeRobe writes "Researchers at Harvard have developed a pneumatically-controlled rubber robot that combines undulation and quadrupedal 'crawling,' allowing it to maintain a low profile while moving. In a paper published in PNAS (abstract), they describe it as a 'soft robot, composed exclusively of soft materials (elastomeric polymers), which is inspired by animals (e.g., squid, starfish, worms) that do not have hard internal skeletons.' The robot is solely powered by relatively low pressure (10 psi), and controlled by 5 pneumatic actuators. The research was funded by DARPA." The paper is also available (not paywalled) from the researchers' project site (PDF), complete with more creepy images of the squidbot.
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New 'Rubber Robot' Crawls Through Small Spaces With Inflatable Limbs

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  • by greywire ( 78262 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @04:32PM (#38230944) Homepage

    welcome our.. oh never mind.

    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *

      Bah, I don't even get what is supposed to be so revolutionary about this. I've had a pneumatically-controlled rubber robot that can get into small spaces for years.

  • Wow! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Moheeheeko ( 1682914 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @04:35PM (#38230968)
    One step closer to the sex robot, better get my money ready.
  • who would have ever thought the worm would be described as a method to mobilize gelatinous robots

  • The uses for an undulating, rubber robot are staggering. When it involves quadrupedal crawling, its even better.

    • by Hentes ( 2461350 )

      The only problem is that it's not self contained yet, with the battery, air pump and command module being tethered to it.

      • by skids ( 119237 )

        Doesn't matter if you've got 200 feet of tricky crawlspace to get some cat5 through, since it would be hauling a fish line anyway.

        • It sure didn't look nearly powerful enough to haul cable behind it. I'm sure there's many innovations to come still, and this was an early prototype, but I think it's much more likely that it would be used with a video camera mounted on it.. Maybe finding leaks in hard to get to spaces, or searching for survivors in wreckage (as the article suggested). The most impressive part to me was that the prototype only cost $5 in parts..
          • Hauling a fish line is very easy, it's not the same as hauling cable. You just tie a kite string to the bot, have it crawl through, then tie other end of the kite string to the CAT5 and pull it yourself.
            • I have an old Popular Mechanics magazine from the 1940s showing a trick they used while building the Grand Coulee dam. They tied a string to a cat's tail, put the cat into the gallery, and scared it with a blast of compressed air. Cats hate the hissing sound that compressed air makes.

              Perhaps a robot would be more reliable, no danger of it stopping midways to take a nap, but using cats to pull CAT5 cables seem very appropriate to me.

  • New rubber, inflatable robot... needs 2nd robot to follow it and provide air lines for power source.

    Still--this has real applications....

  • I think my wife would like one for Christmas.

  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @04:48PM (#38231110) Homepage

    The link to the PDF in the summary is a borked link ... this one is accurate: []

  • Will my robot insurance [] cover this?
  • ....large, white, and spherical.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Now, they just need to develop a colonoscope that crawls into the colon to make it traverse the turns without applying pressure to the colon wall. A relatively painless colonoscopy which would require no sedation.

    • Would require no sedation- but might require a desire to grow a moustache, drink appletinis, and start listening to Cher.

  • Presumably it has other uses other than a flawless execution of "the worm"?

  • by squidflakes ( 905524 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @05:53PM (#38231834) Homepage

    The squid is the wrong cephalopod to reference here. The motion is much more octopus-like, as octopuses only have a single hard structure in their bodies, the beak, while squid and cuttlefish both have an internal shell. In the case of the cuttlefish, the cuttlebone is roughly the length and width of the cuttlefish's mantle. In the case of the squid, the pin shell is slightly less than the mantle length, and usually only a few centimeters wide, depending on the size of the animal.

  • Not a robot. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by blair1q ( 305137 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @06:12PM (#38232036) Journal

    Look, if it has to be tethered to an enormous power and control source, it is not a robot, it is a...what? a mechanical peripheral, at best.

    I have the same basic problem with the "robot wars" stuff. If there's a guy with a controller box to one side of the arena deciding what the thing will do, it's an RC toy, not a robot.

    Make it autonomous, self-propelled, and self-powered, and it's a robot. Otherwise, it's not any more of a robot than your printer is.

    • Well, from what I see in the .pdf, they can set the gait of the robot, and then just let it crawl, using the preset list of positions.

      It is autonomous in a sense. The controls for the different positions come from within the software. The human only gives a single instruction (walk with this gait), and then all the small instructions to make it function come from software.

      As far as the semantics go, I am a bit annoyed that they call it a robot, since there are no feedback loops that allow the device to ma

      • by blair1q ( 305137 )

        Is a power screwdriver a robot, then?

        I agree, the science of robotics requires electromechanical control and all the motion-control analysis that implies.

        But a "robotic arm" is not a robot. It could be a piece of a robot, but it's not a robot. Unless maybe it can decide to strangle its master. Asimov's laws are not actual laws, yet, that I know of, but in this case the need for them can be a test for whether a thing is a robot or not, although that's a rather stronger test, as all I want is autonomous beh

    • my printer is a robot?!!?!!!!? ...runs screaming around the office 'the printers are robots!!!!'
  • New 'Rubber Robot' Crawls Through Small Spaces With Inflatable Limbs

    Say that sentence out loud to 5 different people on the street, be sure to 'emphasize' the relevant section. This is the best heading on slashdot in years. I must admit when I'm feeling a bit adventurous I don't mind a bit of the old 'rubber robot' you know what I'm saying?

    • Personally, I found the headline combined fact that they published the paper in something called PNAS to be so over the top that I questioned if it was something the Onion produced.

    • After reading the title, I was 12 all over again... XD
  • next phase design? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Thursday December 01, 2011 @07:15PM (#38232608)

    Ok, jokes about inflatable rubber robots crawling through small spaces aside....

    I imagine a kind of pneumatic (or better, hydraulic) soft bodied robot that has a kind of "fluid logic" system that squeezes off the supply lines to the "muscle chambers", and a single internal electrical contraction chamber that serves as the main pump.

    Say for instance, the main pump simply squeezes a large, central space somehow, and has say, 8 output lines from that chamber. Surrounding each line is a "pinch" cell, which is a smaller version of the main pump cell, but with no output lines. When active, it constricts the fluid flow down the tube it surrounds, preventing working fluid from passing.

    The tubes continue and terminate at the expansion chambers in the robot's limbs.

    The computer circuitry which drives the main cell, and the 8 control cells, is tiny and self contained. Possibly an epoxy blob design. This would be the only rigid part of the robot, though it too could be flexible with the right design. (Use flexible substrate electronics, like that graphene ink approach.)

    Depending on how those 8 control valves are opened or closed, the action of the main pump cycle would actuate the robot. 8 valves would give you 256 possible muscle instructions to work with.

    Conceivably, you could even do "tricks" this way, by inflating a limb motor cell, then blocking the fluid return by closing the valve, to hold one part of the robot stiff, while the remaining working fluid drives some other part of the robot, to accomplish some task. An example use might be "jumping", since the release of the control valves would violently snap the muscle as the pressure released.

    I could see some pretty complex movements being done this way.

    The issue is how to power the robot. A laboratory test robot might walk on a special floor which doubles as an inductive charger, which powers the robot's electronics, but a real world softbody robot would something a little more real.

  • ...welcome our new robotic Cthulhoid overlords!

  • don't require bulky air compressors and have been around for decades, and far surpass this in strength and precision.

    Electroactive polymers []

    Move along people, nothing to see here but balloon animals.
  • I don't know why, but they do.
  • People, do yourself a favour and go watch the video. It does look pretty hilarious.

    In some way, it reminds me of my 2-month old baby, actually.

"To take a significant step forward, you must make a series of finite improvements." -- Donald J. Atwood, General Motors