Meet Meshworm, the Squishy Robot
by Perry Michael Simon on August 13, 2012
Look, a squishy robot! Now, THIS is cool.
Here’s the deal: Up to now, robots have been composed of hard elements. Their components are hard, their bodies are hard, their… you know, I don’t really want to go further with that. But there are applications in which you’d want a robot to be soft and pliable and able to squeeze through tight spaces, whether it’s pushing through a crack in a wall to do surveillance or maybe someday traversing someone’s bloodstream like in the 1966 film Fantastic Voyage, in which Raquel Welch travels through a guy’s arteries.
So science has been working for years to come up with another Raquel Welch… er, soft, pliable robot made up of mostly soft, pliable parts, and the folks at MIT, backed by DARPA, came up with what you see in that video: Meshworm, a primitive autonomous “robot” made of a polymer mesh tube and wires for current to flow through (an “artificial muscle”), contracting the tube in segments in a manner inspired by earthworms. It’s pretty much peristalsis applied to a mechanical thing, and it seems to work, even when hit or stepped on.
There are all kinds of things for which this could be useful. You might find it in military supplies as a durable tool for surveillance or delivery of, oh, I don’t know, explosives. You might see it at your Home Depot, Lowe’s, OSH, or Menards as a repair tool for especially tight spots. Or you might see it at the Pleasure Chest for… no, I said I wasn’t going to go there. Anyway, I think it’s cool.