Pocketable ElectroSkin robot crawls and clings to walls
Taking a little inspiration from the slimy world of slugs and snails and mixing in some modern-day robotics, scientists at the University of Bristol have built a small, stretchy machine that can shuffle across surfaces and be stuffed into a pocket. The team imagines a host of applications for its so-called ElectroSkin, including deploying it in dangerous areas or even as an automated wall cleaner.
Soft robots are showing a lot of promise as machines that can use their more forgiving form to grip onto surfaces and grasp delicate objects. These types of robots often do so through electro-adhesion, relying on electrostatic forces to perch on overhanging surfaces, pick up an egg or climb up walls.
The ElectroSkin employs the same technique, but the team says it is the first to combine this skill with self-locomotion. Just like a snail expands and contracts to pull itself across a surface, the self-actuating ElectroSkin is fitted with artificial muscles to mimic this mode of locomotion.
Because of its stretchy, pliable nature, the ElectroSkin can be rolled up and stuffed in a pocket, and then pulled and tossed onto a surface to go to work. With further development and if fitted with different sensors and attachments, the team imagines the robot could be sent up walls and across ceilings to clean them, sent crawling into collapsed buildings where it isn't safe for people to venture, used as clingy environmental monitors or be converted into wearable computers.
"ElectroSkin is an important step toward soft robots that can be easily transported, deployed and even worn," says leader of the research team and Professor of Robotics Jonathan Rossiter. "The combination of electrical artificial muscles and electrical gripping replicated the movements of animals like slugs and snails, and where they can go, so could our robots!"
The team has published its research in the journal Soft Robotics.