May 26, 2024

Innovative Wormlike Robots for Search and Rescue Missions

Scientists have been striving for years to develop snakelike, limbless robots, envisioning their potential in search-and-rescue operations to navigate through challenging terrains, such as collapsed buildings, and locate and aid survivors.

These robots possess slender, flexible bodies that enable them to maneuver effortlessly through confined and cluttered spaces like debris fields—a terrain where conventional walking or wheeled robots, as well as human rescuers, often struggle to perform effectively.

Despite advances in limbless robot technology, they still fall short of matching the agility and adaptability demonstrated by worms and snakes when moving through rugged landscapes. Even the minuscule nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans, with its simplistic nervous system, can easily navigate intricate physical environments.

In collaboration with a team of roboticists and physicists, our objective was to address this performance gap by exploring biomechanics rather than neuroscience for a solution.

We embarked on constructing a robot model that propels itself through a mechanism akin to how worms and snakes propel their motion. Over millennia, organisms have evolved sophisticated nervous systems that allow them to perceive their physical surroundings, process this information, and execute precise movements to navigate obstacles.

In the realm of robotics, engineers typically devise algorithms that utilize data from sensors installed on the robot’s body—a form of robotic nervous system—and interpret this information to determine appropriate movements. These algorithms and systems are generally intricate and complex in nature.

Our team sought to streamline these systems by focusing on mechanically controlled methods to address obstacles, eliminating the dependence on sensors or computational processes. To achieve this, we drew inspiration from biological examples.

Animals don’t rely solely on their neurons—brain cells and peripheral nerves—to coordinate movement. They leverage the physical attributes of their bodies, such as muscle elasticity, to spontaneously adapt to their surroundings even before neurons can respond.

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1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it