Giant robotic worm mimics C. elegans nematode (w/ video)

Jul 06, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- A University of Leeds researcher has drawn inspiration from biology to build a giant robotic worm that can wiggle its way around obstacles.

The super-sized 'worm-bot' is modelled on the C. elegans nematode, a tiny free-living worm that uses an ultra-simple nervous system to control the way that it moves.

Its designer, Dr Jordan Boyle, is hopeful that in future, the worm-bot could be used by search and rescue crews to send heat-seeking equipment into collapsed buildings or deliver aid to trapped survivors.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

"A future version of this could potentially navigate through irregular gaps and holes in buildings that had been damaged by fire, explosions or earthquakes," said engineering research fellow Dr Boyle, who carried out the work at the University's Schools of Computing and .

"Given the correct 'skin', the next version of this robot should also be able to deal with different environments. For example, it should be able to swim through water or crawl through snow or mud, even if it has to weave its way between natural obstacles, such as boulders or trees," he said.

Dr Boyle's worm-bot is 2000 times larger than the 1 mm-long C. elegans worm. Unlike its natural counterpart - which has no skeleton at all - the robot has a rigid 'backbone', just like a snake. However, a series of springs along the length of its body give the robot worm-like flexibility.

The system driving the robot forward is essentially the same as that of the C. elegans nematode - though with a few tweaks to improve the robot's performance. As a result, the worm-bot deals with obstacles in a very different way to other flexible, floor-crawling robots.

Snake- or worm-like robots are typically propelled forwards by an 'ideal' wave that their control system has worked out in advance. When they meet an obstacle, the control system senses that something is hampering the way it wants to move and directs the robot to change its shape accordingly.

In contrast, this bioinspired worm-bot is not interested in its surroundings and simply wants to wriggle from side to side. When it hits an obstacle, it doesn't need to know how that has altered the shape of its body in order to carry on - it just keeps on going, regardless.

"The combination of the flexible control system and the 'bendy' body means that the robot adapts blindly to any obstacles that are preventing it from moving forward. Basically the worm-bot is thinking: 'go, go, go!'" Dr Boyle said.

"At the moment, this does mean that the worm-bot has no idea where it will end up so there is a small chance that it might get stuck. A future version would just need to include an extra layer of 'intelligence' to the control system that could step in if the robot needed extra help to wriggle its way out of a corner," he added.

Explore further: Telerobotics puts robot power at your fingertips

Related Stories

Simple Robot Climbs Through Tubes (w/ Video)

May 12, 2010

Last week was the IEEE's International Conference on Robotics and Automation, held in Anchorage, Alaska. One of the most interesting robots was a simple -- and fast -- bot designed to climb easily through tubes.

Care-O-bot 3: Always at your service

Jul 01, 2008

Who doesn’t long for household help at times? Service robots will soon be able to relieve us of heavy, dirty, monotonous or irksome tasks. Research scientists have now presented a new generation of household ...

Two robots to do our dirty work (w/ video)

May 03, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Today's tale of robots is a double feature. That is right, we are going to look at not one, but two of the bots who are making our lives not only more interesting, but safer. The digital eyes ...

Recommended for you

Telerobotics puts robot power at your fingertips

9 hours ago

At the Smart America Expo in Washington, D.C., in June, scientists showed off cyber-dogs and disaster drones, smart grids and smart healthcare systems, all intended to address some of the most pressing challenges ...

Getting a grip on robotic grasp

Jul 18, 2014

Twisting a screwdriver, removing a bottle cap, and peeling a banana are just a few simple tasks that are tricky to pull off single-handedly. Now a new wrist-mounted robot can provide a helping hand—or rather, ...

JIBO robot could become part of the family

Jul 17, 2014

JIBO, measuring at about 11 inches tall and weighing approximately 6 pounds, is a robotic device designed for people to use as a companion and helper at home. , The team behind JIBO aims to bring it to market ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ubavontuba
1 / 5 (1) Jul 06, 2011
It certainly mimics organic motion well. Pretty cool.
FroShow
not rated yet Jul 06, 2011
I wonder if he's collaborated with others making these types of robots?