Caterpillars and the next generation of rolling robots

Caterpillar (Family: Crambidae)
Image by Arthur Chapman via Flickr

The millions of years of natural selection that lies behind the immense biodiversity found on our planet is fertile ground for keeping robotics research rolling … in this case, literally.

Some caterpillars in the Crambidae family have the amazing ability to spring into a wheel shape and roll away when it’s time to get out of Dodge fast, and it is this talent that has inspired the creation of GoQBot – a 3-inch cm long soft-bodied robot that could provide a blueprint for versatile search and rescue robots of the future.

The gut-sliding locomotion of caterpillars has already formed the basis of research into soft-bodied robots. In this case scientists are mimicking the caterpillar’s ability known as “ballistic rolling” – one of the fastest wheeling behaviors in nature – with the aim of creating limbless robots which can move fast as well as wriggle into tight spaces.

“GoQBot demonstrates a solution by reconfiguring its body and could therefore enhance several robotic applications such as urban rescue, building inspection, and environmental monitoring,” said lead author Huai-Ti Lin from the Department of Biology, Tufts University. “Due to the increased speed and range, limbless crawling robots with ballistic rolling capability could be deployed more generally at a disaster site such as a tsunami aftermath. The robot can wheel to a debris field and wiggle into the danger for us.”

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