Tiny Caterpillar Robot Powered by Light

The robotics community has seen a few soft robotic worms in the past, however none quite as small as this one. Robotics researchers at the University of Warsaw have created a 15mm-long robot that can move like a caterpillar and is only powered by visible light. The tiny robot is composed of Liquid Crystalline Elastomers (LCEs), a photoactive material that can change their geometry quite dramatically when exposed to visible light. With recent developments in fabrication technology, 3D structures, like the caterpillar, can be printed out of LCEs. When light, in this case, green light, is shown on the caterpillar, a wave-like movement is triggered. This is similar to the gait of many caterpillars in nature, hence the robot's name. As a result, the robotic caterpillar is completely untethered, can maneuver through tight spaces and unique terrain, and can push object that are more than 10x its own mass.

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Although this robot is tremendously different from my own soft robotics research and the research of Super-Releaser as a whole, it is fascinating nonetheless. The use of photoactive polymers could be immensely useful in applications where an autonomous device may need to navigate through tight and complex conditions and terrain. This would apply to fields ranging from surgery to disaster relief. I personally think it would be interesting to see a structure made of LCEs that could perform different motions depending on the color of light shown upon it. This could allow for more complicated versions of these tiny robots.

-Aidan Leitch

 

Aidan Leitch