Engineering researchers from the University of Toronto have created a miniature robot that can crawl with inchworm-like motion. The underlying technology could one day transform industries from aviation to smart wearables.
Professor Hani Naguib and his group specialize in smart materials. One line of their research focuses on electrothermal actuators (ETAs), devices made of specialized polymers that can be programmed to physically respond to electrical or thermal changes.
For example, an ETA could be programmed to mimic muscle reflexes, tensing up when cold and relaxing when hot.
Naguib and his team are applying this technology to the robotics field, creating ‘soft’ robots that can crawl and curl. They believe these could one day replace the bulky and metal-plated bots found in manufacturing industries.
“Right now, the robots you’ll find in industry are heavy, solid and caged off from workers on the factory floor, because they pose safety hazards,” explains Naguib.
“But the manufacturing industry is modernizing to meet demand. More and more, there’s an emphasis on incorporating human-robot interactions,” he adds. “Soft, adaptable robots can leverage that collaboration.”