A New Breakthrough in Robotics: Autonomous Navigation for Soft Robots

Researchers have made a significant breakthrough in the field of robotics with the development of a soft robot that can navigate complex environments without the need for human or computer direction. Building upon previous work, where a soft robot demonstrated basic navigational skills in simpler mazes, this new invention showcases the concept of physical intelligence.

Physical intelligence refers to the intrinsic behavior of dynamic objects, such as soft robots, that is defined by their structural design and materials rather than external guidance. Unlike its symmetrical predecessor, this new breed of soft robot features an asymmetrical design with two distinct halves. One segment extends in a straight line, resembling a twisted ribbon, while the other mirrors a tightly wound ribbon spiraling like a staircase.

The asymmetrical design allows the robot to exert more force on one end, resulting in a non-linear motion. Similar to how a plastic cup with a broader mouth than its base arcs across a surface when rolled, the robot’s arc-like movement enables it to turn autonomously without object contact. While it can still change its path upon encountering an obstacle, it cannot get trapped between parallel barriers due to its arcing movement.

Tests conducted on this soft robot have demonstrated its ability to navigate through intricate mazes, including those with shifting walls. The robot can even squeeze through gaps smaller than its own size, showcasing its agility. These tests were conducted on various terrains, including metal surfaces and sand.

This groundbreaking work paves the way for innovative approaches to soft robot design, particularly for applications where robots can harness environmental heat energy. As the field of robotics continues to advance, the potential of “brainless” soft robots in real-world applications appears to be limitless.

Source: North Carolina State University