SquishBot Soft Shape-Changing 'Chembots'

SquishBots, also known as GummiBots (by me), also known as Chembots (by DARPA) are back in the news today.

(SquishBot from Boston Dynamics)

SquishBot is a program to develop a new class of soft, shape-changing robot. The goal is to design systems that can transform themselves from hard to soft and from soft to hard, upon command. Another goal is to create systems that change their critical dimensions by large amounts, as much as 10x. Such robots will be like soft animals that can squeeze themselves through small openings and into tight places.

As I have written previously, DARPA "...is seeking innovative proposals to develop Chemical Robots (ChemBots): soft, flexible, mobile objects that can identify and maneuver through openings smaller than their static structural dimensions; reconstitute size, shape, and functionality after traversal; carry meaningful payloads; and perform tasks." That's what the program mission statement says, anyway.

Boston Dynamics is working with the Robotic Mobility Group at MIT to create these soft, slide into anywhere robots. The MIT gang thinks of SquishBots as being like slugs with "viscoelastic skeletons" (there's your word for the day) that can have variable degrees-of-freedom based on overall stiffness.

(SQUISHBot from MIT)

SQUISHBot (Soft QUIet Shape-shifting robot) is a soft meso-scale robot that can climb walls, ceilings, and cross rough terrain. The robot is compliant and can morph, allowing it to conform to irregular shapes and squeeze through holes much smaller than its nominal cross-sectional area. The robot’s viscoelastic skeleton can transition from rigid to compliant states; it is comprised of field responsive fluids impregnated within a high-porosity open-cell foam to create viscoelastic solids with highly compliant and user-selectable stiffness. Advanced software controls the stiffness of SQUISHBot’s body to affectively make it a high- or low-degree-of-freedom robot.

Even better (if that's possible), the MIT design team is thinking of having SQUISHBot secrete a very thin film of viscous fluid just like the real-world slugs being biomimicked. A robot that leaves a slime trail; now, we're talking SlimeBot.

Learn about predecessors to the SquishBot like Gummi Bots: Biomimetic Soft-Bodied Robots and Chembots desired by DARPA. Read more on SquishBots at SquishBot - Advanced Chemistry Robot that Inches, Climbs and Deforms [Boston Dynamics] and SQUISHBot Project Page [MIT].

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 4/21/2009)

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