Meet the Meshworm: DARPA-backed robot bends and crawls like a worm


Scientists from MIT, Harvard and Seoul found inspiration in the humble earthworm.

A group of Pentagon-backed scientists has found inspiration for autonomous, hardy robots in an unlikely creature: the earthworm.

The team, supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, created a pliable and autonomous robot that squeezes into corners and crawls over bumpy terrain, according to a news release .

The researchers, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University and Seoul National University, built the robot -- called the Meshworm -- out of a nickel-titanium alloy tube designed to stretch and contract when heated. The scientists developed algorithms to control how heat from a wire coiled around the Meshworm’s body would direct its movements.

The robot can survive hammer blows because it’s made from very flexible material, according to the MIT statement. This could make it ideal for deployment as a reconnaissance-bot on the battlefield. The technology also could have applications in healthcare and endoscopy.

The details of the design have been published in IEEE/ASME Transactions on Mechatronics .

DARPA has long been asking engineers to make nature their muse. Most recently, the Pentagon called for sensors that mimic could mimic those in spiders, houseflies and other creatures, a notice to small businesses indicated.

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