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MM: Snake-Inspired Kirigami Robot

Researchers are borrowing from snakes to create a soft snake-like robot that can crawl without any rigid components.

This isn’t the first snake-inspired robot to be featured on Manufacturing Minute, and it probably won’t be the last. However, it could be the first to utilize the design of snakeskin as a way of locomotion.

Snakes move by using their scales to grip the ground and propel their bodies forward. Researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences are using those same principals to create a soft snake-like robot that can crawl without any rigid components.

The robot’s scales are created using kirigami — a Japanese paper craft similar to origami that uses cuts instead of folds. The patterns are cut into flat plastic sheets which are then wrapped around a tube-like elastomer actuator that expands and contracts with air.

When the robot stretches, the kirigami pattern turns into a 3D-textured surface that grips the ground like a snake’s skin would. When the actuator deflates, the cuts fold flat and propel the robot forward.

Researchers say the all-terrain soft robots could one day be used to explore or inspect difficult environments, be used in search and rescue missions or even laparoscopic medical procedures.

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