This snake-like robot can burrow into Earth now; NASA may even send it on a moon trip
The field of robotics has witnessed massive growth in the past decade. Today, robots are not only used in industries for manufacturing but they are also being deployed at hotels to welcome guests, by defense forces to enhance security and by banks and other corporates to better serve their customers. In the past, we have also seen companies like Boston Dynamics making robots that act like dogs, except they aren't as cute as the real ones. What all these robots have in common is the fact that they all travel on the ground. Now, we have a different kind of robot. None of the robots developed so far have been able to dig through the ground and travel underground. But that is about to change as researchers from the US have made a robot that can do just that - yes, it has the power to burrow underground!
Challenges faced: Researchers from UC Santa Barbara and Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a fast, controllable soft robot that can burrow through the sand. “The biggest challenges with moving through the ground are simply the forces involved...If you're trying to move through the ground, you have to push the soil, sand or other medium out of the way,” Nicholas Naclerio, a graduate student researcher in the lab of UC Santa Barbara mechanical engineering professor Elliot Hawkes and lead author of a paper on the cover of the journal Science Robotics told UC Santa Barbara's The Current.
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Animal lessons for robots: The researchers tried to solve this problem by looking for inspiration in nature. Researchers said that burrowing animals served as inspiration for an additional strategy called granular fluidization, which suspends the particles in a fluid-like state and allows the animal to overcome the high level of resistance presented by sand or loose soil. They also looked at the southern sand octopus, which expels a jet of water into the ground, and uses its arms to pull itself into the temporarily loosened sand, for inspiration. This ability made its way onto the robot in the form of a tip-based flow device that shoots air into the region just ahead, enabling it to move into that area.
Researchers said that in the sand the downward airflow reduced the lift forces and excavated the sand below the robot's growing tip. This, combined with inspiration from the sandfish lizard, whose wedge-shaped head favors downward movement, allowed them to modulate the resisting forces and keep the robot moving horizontally without rising out of the sand.
From below earth to over the moon: Now, the team is working on a project with NASA to develop burrowing into the moon or even more distant bodies, like Enceladus, a moon of Jupiter.