Soft Robots that Grow
Traditional robots are rigid, with distinct joints and links which allow them to manipulate objects by moving limbs. However, these robots are difficult to maneuver in tight spaces and require accurate path planning algorithms in order to navigate their environments. A new class of soft robots, called growing or eversion robots, are able to unfold from within when pressurized with air. As they are made of soft materials they are compliant; this makes it easier for them to conform to narrow passageways and avoid obstacles without preprogramming.
The growth produced by this soft robot is frictionless as the part of the body which is unfolding is only ever in contact with itself. This makes it an exciting candidate for certain medical procedures such as colonoscopy or endoscopy. The frictionless movement of a growing robot can make these procedures a lot more comfortable for patients.
Aside from meical uses, these robots can be used to explore difficult to access areas such as extreme environments. One example of this is in nuclear decommisioning sites. Soft, growing robots can be sent in to deliver sensors and relay video of the surroundings. This leads to one of the biggest challenges in soft robotics: the development of flexible sensors. At Team Robotix we have been developing flexible optic-fibre based force sensing. This relates light intensity measured to the force applied.