Sep 1, 2017 | By Tess

As a non-solid surface, sand can be tricky to move on. (If you ask me, even walking on dry sand is tough.) And as it turns out, even robots have had trouble getting by on sandy terrain—until now, that is.

Researcher Baptiste Darbois Texier and his team from the University of Santiago in Chile have been developing a 3D printed robot that is suited for moving through sand and other granular materials.

The robot, which measures just 12 centimeters in length, is made up of a plastic 3D printed head and a helical tail. A tiny battery and motor are integrated into the robot’s structure to power it. When moving through materials like sand, the motor rotates the robot’s tail which pushes it forward while its head stays in place.

In designing the bot, the researchers say they drew inspiration from certain bacteria species, which use a rotational movement and propeller-like tails (flagella) to get through thick liquids, as well as certain types of plant seeds which use a coiled tail-like feature (an awn) which allow them to go deeper into soil.

To demonstrate how the sand-savvy bot works, the research team placed it into the bottom of a tube (facing upwards). They then filled the tube with a granular material and placed a sort of cork at the top to keep the pressure constant. When the robot is turned on, you can see it move up through the granular material until it reaches the cork. Pretty nifty, huh?

The research team says its 3D printed robot could be an early step in developing more advanced robots capable of helical locomotion. “The development of such robots may be useful for explorations or rescuing missions,” it says. This means the robots could be deployed in disaster zones (moving through rubble, for instance), in the battlefield (on sandy or granular terrain), and maybe even in space.

The study, “Helical Locomotion in a Granular Medium,” was recently published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

(Images: Baptiste Darbois Texier)

It is not the first time we’ve seen scientists draw inspiration from nature to develop innovative robots. Readers might remember the 3D printed “MuddyBot,” a robot based on the African mudskipper fish which is helping researchers to learn about how the first vertebrates walked on land; or the “Bat Bot,” a 3D printed robot that mimics how bats fly and could lead to better drones.

Recently, we even learnt how researchers from the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering are studying lobsters in order to develop advanced 3D printed body armor which could change contact sports like football.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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