Nov.1, 2015 | By Alec

Many people consider earthworms to be disgusting, but they are actually very interesting to roboticists. Movement is ever a crucial aspect in robotics, and scientists are increasingly turning to the animal kingdom to find walking or crawling inspiration. And now a team of researchers from Case Western University have stumbled on the earthworm, which has inspired a biomimetic worm-bot that could have future applications in surgery and even in removing blockages from pipes.

This robot is the result of research by a team of neuroscientists and engineers, including Alexander S. Boxerbaum, Andrew D. Horchler, Kendrick M. Shaw, Hillel J. Chiel, and Roger D. Quinn from the Center for Biologically-Inspired Robotics Research. While having resulted in a few papers such as A Controller for Continuous Wave Peristaltic Locomotion already, they also presented their work at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual earlier this month.

As Andrew Horchler explains, earthworms have a particularly strange movement type called peristalsis. They use two types of muscles that contract and expand sacs of fluid – making worms longer and thinner and wider and shorter, moving forward. By studying the neurological and physical system that creates that movement, Horchler and his colleagues have now built a 3D printed robot that recreates this movement mechanically. ‘This method of locomotion is particularly effective in constrained spaces. Soft worm robots may eventually have application in pipe inspection, burrowing, or exploration.  Understanding the physics and control of this motion is a problem we are addressing with mechanical models, mathematics and computer simulation,’ the research team explains.

To help realise it, they have built a series of kinematic models and 2D simulations that helps them to understand the limitations of actuators on large segments. ‘In contrast, this prototype uses a continuous braided mesh exterior to produce waves of motion along the body of the robot,’ they add. The final CMMWorm (Compliant Modular Mesh Worm), as they called it, is a modular worm with artificial neuronal controller and an array of neurons that lets it move forward. Dozens of 3D printed hubs are all interconnected via nylon types, in which the actuators can be found. A series of off-the-self parts are also used.

The possible applications of this CMMWorm are manifold, especially thanks to its contraction range. ‘‘In addition to having independently controlled segments and interchangeable mesh properties, CMMWorm also has high range of contraction (52% of maximum diameter). The six-segment robot can traverse flat ground and pipes,’ they say. In the future, microscopic versions of the CMM can even be used to enter human bodies for procedures such as endoscopies and more. While it will doubtlessly take a few years before such applications can be realized, this is certainly the most potent 3D printed robot we’ve seen in a long time.

A paper on the design of the robot is available here, and the first draft is available here.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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akka69 wrote at 11/3/2015 11:32:42 AM:

Shai-Hulud !

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