Researchers at Stanford University have created a soft, flexible robot that “grows” like a vine and can squeeze into tight spaces.
The soft-bodied prototype is made out of a thin plastic that’s folded into itself like an inside-out sock. A machine pumps pressurized air into the robot and the plastic turns right side out into a long tube. The stiffened robot is now able to turn and spiral, depending on the design of the plastic, and can fit through tiny cracks and liquids. In one test, the robot was able to slide underneath a 100 kilogram crate and lift it off the ground.
The researchers, led by Elliot W. Hawkes, plan to resize the prototype for different applications. Larger versions could be used to create robots that can maneuver into tight spaces in search and rescue operations, that would be difficult for hard-bodied robots to access. Smaller versions could be used for medical purposes, like inserting a catheter into a patient.