Mini Robots developed to sliver through Complex Mazes

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According to an article on ScienceDaily.com, Engineers from Princeton and North Carolina State University have developed a groundbreaking soft robot that effortlessly navigates through mazes, blending ancient paper-folding techniques with modern materials science. Unlike traditional steering systems that compromise flexibility, this robot integrates the steering mechanism directly into its body, enabling smooth movement and agility, according to Tuo Zhao, a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton.


Published in PNAS on May 6, the researchers detail their creation of a modular, cylindrical robot composed of segments that can function independently or assemble into longer formations. This design not only facilitates forward and reverse crawling but also enables tasks like cargo retrieval. The authors envision a future where modular soft robots can evolve, repair, and acquire new functionalities, potentially operating as singular entities or swarms, Zhao explains.

At the heart of the robot’s design lies a bio-inspired origami pattern called Kresling, allowing each segment to twist and expand, crucial for directional changes and locomotion. Overcoming the challenge of controlling bending and folding motions required innovative solutions, which North Carolina State University researchers addressed using materials with differential thermal expansion and a stretchable heater made of silver nanowires, allowing precise manipulation of folding and steering. Yong Zhu, one of the lead researchers at N.C. State, highlights the versatility of silver nanowires in fabricating stretchable conductors, essential for various stretchable electronic devices, including the robot’s actuation mechanism.


While the current version of the robot has limited speed, ongoing efforts aim to enhance both speed and steering by exploring different shapes, patterns, and instabilities. Supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, this research paves the way for a new era of soft robotics with unprecedented capabilities.

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