How It Works

Inspired by nature ‘soft bot’ mimics caterpillar to climb walls

Engineers building robots often to look to nature and evolution to design bots that can tackle terrain and navigate its surroundings. In the past, this has meant mimicking dogs, bees, and even butterflies, but researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia have now built an inchworm-like robot. It can climb walls, work underwater, and carry up to five times its own weight. The little machine was described at the Materials Research Society as a solution to assist surveillance and inspection of buildings and other man-made structures.

The soft robots are cheaper and lightweight, and resilient. Unlike their rigid metal counterparts in the field of robotics, they are made from silicone rubber, that means they will survive a fall if their suctions cups lose grip. They move by detaching one suction cup from the wall, straightening itself, and then reattaching the sucker, before inching forwards again by arching its artificial spine. It repeats this bending and stretching motion, injecting air into and sucking the air out of the cavities built into its flexible body.

Y. Tang and J. Yin. Design of switchable adhesion actuator for soft climbing robots. Materials Research Society meeting, Phoenix, April 3, 2018.

Image Credit: From left – JOE PARKS/FLICKR (CC BY-NC 2.0); KATJA SCHULZ/FLICKR (CC BY 2.0); YICHAO TANG AND JIE YIN/TEMPLE UNIVERSITY


For more information about science and technology, visit our website now. If you have a tablet or smartphone, you can also download the latest digital version onto your iOS or Android device. To make sure you never miss an issue of How It Works magazine, subscribe today!

Rescue robots, the AI army that could save your life! 

London to trial new delivery robots 

10 Incredible Space Robots