Feeds

'Soft robots' will use gut-wrenching propulsion method

Bowel-churning caterpillar boffinry breakthrough

Intelligent flash storage arrays

American boffins say they are poised to invent a new class of shape-shifting "soft bodied robots" which will manoeuvre - perhaps inside the human body - by mimicking the literally gut-wrenching means by which certain species of creepy-crawly get about.

Assembled experts in the States have opened the door to a fearsome new class of "softbots" by probing the very bowels of crawling Manduca sexta caterpillars. These little chaps, according to Professor Jake Socha, move using "a unique phenomenon of gut sliding ... unlike any form of legged locomotion previously reported".

The caterpillars apparently pump their bowels furiously back and forth as they crawl about. This "internally pistoning gut" or "visceral-locomotory pistoning" mechanism "is a novel finding in animal locomotion", according to Socha and his colleagues.

The boffins are particularly proud of themselves for figuring out the caterpillars' gutsy antics, as it is apparently no easy feat to work out what's going on inside them - one part of a caterpillar seemingly looks much like another even under X-ray.

By dint of phase-contrast synchrotron X-ray imaging and transmission light microscopy, however, the team managed to get a good look at the pulsing insides of the caterpillars and discovered "a nonlinear elastic gut that changes size and translates between the anterior and posterior of the animal".

According to a statement issued by Prof Socha's uni, Virginia Tech:

The findings are already finding their way into designing maneuverable and orientation-independent soft material robots. The next step for these 'softbots' includes a diverse array of potential uses, such as shape-changing robots capable of engaging in search-and-rescue operations, space applications for which a 'gravity-agnostic' crawler would be highly valued, and medical applications in which a biocompatible, soft robot would reduce incidental tissue damage and discomfort.

Our old friends at DARPA, for instance, are known to be working on squidgy droids able to squeeze through narrow openings. Overall, though, the medical applications would seem likeliest. Potentially uncomfortable intrusions into one's body may in future be performed, not by a nasty rigid robot but a nice soft one equipped with visceral-locomotory bowel-churn propulsion.

The new research, accompanied by an explanatory vid, can be found here. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
NASA rover Curiosity drills HOLE in MARS 'GOLF COURSE'
Joins 'traffic light' and perfect stony sphere on the Red Planet
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
Relive the death of Earth over and over again in Extinction Game
Apocalypse now, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that ...
prev story

Whitepapers

A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.