A robotic crawler moving across elevated concrete pavement. (Video/Harvard University)
A team of researchers from Harvard University have developed a soft snake-like robot that can slither like a serpent, coil and uncoil, and could be used for difficult rescue and medical operations some day.
According to a study published in the American journal Science Robotics on Wednesday, the device is composed of "snake scales" made by using kirigami, the ancient Japanese art of three-dimensional paper cutting.
The researchers started with a simple, flat plastic sheet. Using a laser cutter, they made multiple cuts on it and then wrapped it around a tube-like actuator made of a rubber-like material, which expands and contracts with air like a balloon.
When the actuator expands, the cuts pop out, forming a rough surface that can grip the ground. When the actuator deflates, the cuts fold, propelling the snake robot forward.
The team experimented with various kinds of cuts, including triangular, circular and trapezoidal. They found that trapezoidal cuts, which bear the closest resemblance to the shape of snake scales, made the robot cover the most ground.
The researchers said their kirigami-based strategy could pave the way for designing a new class of soft crawlers.
"These all-terrain soft robots could one day travel across difficult environments for exploration, inspection, monitoring and search and rescue missions or perform complex, laparoscopic medical procedures," Katia Bertoldi, professor of applied mechanics and senior author of the paper, said.