Small-scale Soft-Bodied Robot With Multimodal Locomotion

Nature. 2018 Feb 1;554(7690):81-85. doi: 10.1038/nature25443. Epub 2018 Jan 24.

Abstract

Untethered small-scale (from several millimetres down to a few micrometres in all dimensions) robots that can non-invasively access confined, enclosed spaces may enable applications in microfactories such as the construction of tissue scaffolds by robotic assembly, in bioengineering such as single-cell manipulation and biosensing, and in healthcare such as targeted drug delivery and minimally invasive surgery. Existing small-scale robots, however, have very limited mobility because they are unable to negotiate obstacles and changes in texture or material in unstructured environments. Of these small-scale robots, soft robots have greater potential to realize high mobility via multimodal locomotion, because such machines have higher degrees of freedom than their rigid counterparts. Here we demonstrate magneto-elastic soft millimetre-scale robots that can swim inside and on the surface of liquids, climb liquid menisci, roll and walk on solid surfaces, jump over obstacles, and crawl within narrow tunnels. These robots can transit reversibly between different liquid and solid terrains, as well as switch between locomotive modes. They can additionally execute pick-and-place and cargo-release tasks. We also present theoretical models to explain how the robots move. Like the large-scale robots that can be used to study locomotion, these soft small-scale robots could be used to study soft-bodied locomotion produced by small organisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomimetics / methods*
  • Elasticity
  • Equipment Design*
  • Locomotion*
  • Robotics / instrumentation*
  • Rotation
  • Swimming
  • Walking