A team of Harvard University scientists revealed that is just had a new breakthrough in robotics. Using a special material known as “kirigami skin”, scientists have found a way of creating a soft robot with no rigid parts slither like a snake across the ground.
The robot’s so-called kirigami skin is a reference to an ancient Japanese folding paper technique. This makes use of cuts that transform the initially flat surface of the skin into tiny scales. These are then capable of gripping the floor and propelling the robot forward.
The Kirigami Skin, a New Folding Paper Skin
In order to make this all possible, the research team used a laser cutter. This helped them make scales out of a sheet of plastic just a centimeter thick. It also ensured that each scale was subtle but functional enough to keep the robot working properly.
In terms of practical applications, the team behind this robot believe that it could be useful for search and rescue situations. It might be especially useful in missions where larger vehicles or ones with wheels might not be able to penetrate tight or obstructed areas.
Even keyhole surgeries were brought up as a possibility. This is because sufficiently small versions of this robot might be able to fit into nearly any space needed. They would also have place to move around.
During testing, it was discovered that cutting the scales into different shapes would change how the robot moved around. Taking this into account, different robots could potentially be built for different duties or different terrains, if needed.
This technology is effectively a self-propelled drone ready for anything. It can be considered so because it comes with its own onboard computer, sensors, and power supply.
While more consideration will be needed to find the best uses for both this sort of robot as well as the kirigami skin technology, it’s safe to say that the future of robotics might be a bit less humanoid and a little more snake-like than first thought.
“We believe that our kirigami-based strategy opens avenues for the design of a new class of soft crawlers,” states the senior author of the study, Katia Bertoldi.
A paper illustrating the current study results is available in the journal Science Robotics.
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