Earthworm Robot Does What Earthworms Do

This earthworm robot comes to us from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is made up of mostly soft parts and manages to inch its way along the ground.

The robot’s “skin” is made from a tube of polymer mesh that will hold up to an awful lot of bending and stretching. As with its biological namesake, locomotion is facilitated by circular muscles. In this case muscle wire, when stimulated with electricity, contracts around the mesh casing. By coordinating these contractions the robot is able to inch its way along.

But it’s not just the method of travel that makes this research project interesting. The bot is also extremely resistant to damage. The video after the break shows the device withstanding several whacks from a mallet and being stepped on by the team that created it.

16 thoughts on “Earthworm Robot Does What Earthworms Do

  1. Yes this earthworm robot does what an earthworm does, it creeps me the —- out! Anyway this does remind me of peristalsis, I wonder if this could be used for pumping stuff?

  2. You probably don’t want one of these as an endoscope… these things get HOT! The transition from austenite to martensite phase is done by electrically heating the material, presumably Nitinol (NiTi alloy), above its transition temperature. Once power is cut, the heated material reverts to its original shape as it cools below the transition temperature.

    The transition temperature of NiTi can be controlled for during manufacture, but would have to be well above body temperature to avoid accidental transitions. Beyond that, it must also be well above ambient temperature to achieve the response times (fast enough cooling) shown in the video.

    (Disclaimer: I work with this stuff in my day job. One long-ago project was an SMA-woven seatbelt that would automatically tighten during a crash. IIRC it ended up with still too-slow response times and some singed crash dummies!)

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