Worming Their Way Into Things That Don’t Concern Them

Worming their way into things that don’t concern them is a habit of security units throughout the globe. The trick is to do this at will, but also to be undetected. Not an easy task in this day and age where we are all at a degree of heightened awareness.

Seok et al have decided to take the brief quite literally and have emulated a segmented worm’s musculature with a soft flexible robot (1, 2). Worms have many advantages as potential spies as DARPA, who funded the work, recognize, but they are difficult to train. Hence the solution was to build a robot worm.

Robot worm spies have to be wriggly, silent and cheap. It helps if they don’t become incapacitated if accidentally stepped on by heavy boots. The team have gone a long way to cracking this. The outer body of the wormy robot is made out of polymer mesh and a Nickel/Titanium wire is coiled around the outside.

When heated in sections the differential expansion and contraction of the coil cause the worm to expand and contract sequentially and move the robot forward like the peristaltic motion of a live, segmented worm. With wire muscles on the left and the right, it can wriggle round corners.

So far speed is not its strong point. It can move across your floor at a rate of 18 m/hour. However if spotted and attacked with a hammer, it shrugs of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and gets back to its sluggish motion. In fact it is rather closer in appearance to a slug than a worm and may be better suited to wriggling around in gardens spying on the goings on behind the hedges, rather than in the drawing rooms of the good and the great.

  1. http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/login.jsp?tp=&arnumber=6232458&url=http%3A%2F%2Fieeexplore.ieee.org%2Fstamp%2Fstamp.jsp%3Ftp%3D%26arnumber%3D6232458
  2.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-19200285

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