Researchers at Seoul National University in South Korea believe the future of robotics may lie in the environment around us. Unveiling their new robots this past week in the journal Science Robotics, the team have dubbed their creations ‘hygrobots’. Taking the humidity from their surrounding environment, these robots can crawl, twist, and wriggle around much like a snake or worm.
Though the robots are definitely worm-like in their behavior, the inspiration for the devices actually came from plants. Plants can change their size and shape by absorbing water from the ground or air in a process called hygroexpansion. For examples, a pine cone closes when it’s wet, and opens when the environment is dry (to release its seeds). By mimicking the behavior of a Pelargonium carnosum seed (from an African shrub), the new hygrobots are able to move without the need for batteries or external power.
The hygrobots are made up of two layers of nanofibers: one that absorbs moisture and one that doesn’t. When placed in a wet environment, the moisture absorbing layer sucks up any available water and swells, which causes the bot to push itself up and away from the surface it sits on. Once this layer eventually dries, the bot goes back down and the cycle repeats. This allows the bot to move forward.
Interested in the medical potential of their creation, the South Korean team demonstrated the potential for a hygrobot soaked in antibiotics. Placed within a culture plate filled with bacteria, the robot left behind a sterilized trail, much like a slug would leave a trail of slime behind it. It’s thought that in the future, these robots could be used to deliver drugs to the human body, as they’d propel themselves forward using just the patient’s skin moisture.
They’re no edible gelatin robot, but they’re sure interesting.
Source: The Verge