Soft robot that is programmed to move like an inchworm

Researchers at U of T Engineering have developed miniature robots that can crawl with movements that resemble centimeter worms. Basic technology can one day turn the aviation industry into smart goods.

Professor Hani Naguib (MIE, MSE) and his group specialize in smart material. His research focuses on electrothermal actuators (ETAs), devices made of special polymers that can be programmed to respond physically to electrical or thermal changes.

For example, ETA can be programmed to mimic muscle reflexes by entering cold and relaxing in the heat. Naguib and his team applied this technology to robotics and made “soft” robots that could crawl and contract. They believe that one day they can replace thick coatings and metals in the manufacturing industry.

Today, robots in this industry are heavy, solid, and closed by factory workers because they pose a security risk, said Naguib, director of the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing in Toronto and Robotics Management Institute U. about robots on T.

Although responsive material has been explored for decades, the team has found a new approach to programming that leads to documents about removing inch worms that were recently published in Scientific Reports.

Existing research documents STA programming from others. The programmability of the two-dimensional structure is limited, so the answer is only flexible movement, “explained Yu-Chen (Gary) Sun, the article’s lead author.

In contrast, Sun and his co-authors have created ETA with three-dimensional hibernation. They use thermally induced relaxation and stress hardening methods that open up more possibilities for form and movement.

Also new is the strength needed to drive the movement of inch worms. We are more effective than anything in scientific literature, say researchers.

Naguib claims that these deformed soft robots will not revolutionize the manufacturing industry: they can be useful in security, aviation, operations, and portable electronics.

In situations where there is a risk of gas or fire leakage, we can equip the bypass robot with sensors to measure damaging environments, Naguib explained. In space, we see intelligent material that is the key to the next generation of planes with overflowing wings.

Although he pointed out that it would take time for the world to see airplanes, the most direct effect would be seen in the technology used.

We are trying to apply this material to clothing. These clothes will be compressed or released based on body temperature, which can be a therapy for athletes, Naguib said. The team also checked whether smart clothing could be useful in spinal cord injuries.

Next year, the Naguib team will focus on accelerating responsive crawling and exploring other configurations.


The study is published in University of Toronto Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering

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