Washington: Caterpillars are inspiring researchers to design a new generation of search and rescue robots that can operate effectively and speedily during disasters.Some caterpillars have amazing ability to rapidly curl themselves into a wheel and propel themselves away from predators. This highly dynamic process, called ballistic rolling, is one of the fastest wheeling behaviours in nature.
Researchers from Tufts University, Massachusetts, are designing a robot that mimics these movements and to develop a better understanding of the mechanics behind ballistic rolling, reports the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.
Lead author Huai-Ti Lin, a biologist at Tufts, said: "Due to the increased speed and range, limbless crawling robots with ballistic rolling capability could be deployed more generally at a disaster site such as a tsunami aftermath. The robot can wheel to a debris field and wiggle into the danger for us."
Researchers designed a 10-cm long soft-bodied robot, called GoQBot, which simulates caterpillar`s movements. It is made out of silicone rubber and actuated by embedded shape memory alloy coils, according to a Tufts statement.
It was named GoQBot as it forms a "Q" shape before rolling away at over half a metre per second. It was fitted with five infrared emitters along its side to allow motion tracking using one of the latest high speed 3D tracking systems.
Not only did the study provide an insight into the fascinating escape system of a caterpillar, it also put forward a new locomotor strategy which could be used in future robot development.
Many modern robots are modelled after snakes, worms and caterpillars for their talents in crawling and climbing into difficult spaces.
However, the limbless bodies severely reduce the speeds of the robots in the opening. On the other hand, there are many robots that employ a rolling motion in order to travel with speed and efficiency, but they struggle to gain access to difficult spaces.