Physics researchers at the University of Warsaw have created an innovative soft robot that packs a powerful punch for its size. Despite being only 15 millimeters long, this powerful machine can carry loads up to 10 times larger than itself. While soft robots inspired by caterpillars have been designed before, it’s been a challenge to build them at a natural scale due to the available parts simply being too large and inflexible.
That’s where this robot is different. At first glance, it appears to simply be a thin, transparent piece of plastic. However, when exposed to light, the body contracts in a wave pattern which moves it forward. The secret to this motion is in the light-sensitive elastomer the robot is made of, which is aligned in a specific molecular pattern.
The researchers could even change the lighting conditions in order to made the robot perform a variety of different actions. Not only can it haul a cargo, but it can also crawl through small crevices and climb up slopes. The robot is further controlled with a spatially modulated laser beam.
Using what they’ve learned of new fabrication techniques and design strategies, the Warsaw team hopes to further develop the technology and create soft robots capable of swimming and even flying. Their findings have been published in the journal Advanced Optical Materials.