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ChIMERA: The giant single-celled robot

Some interesting studies into the robotics field as of late have focused particularly on the movement and motion of our mechanical friends, perhaps none more so than Dr. Dennis Hong of Virginia Tech’s RoMeLa Lab; this is the same group that has developed DARwIn,  the first full humanoid robot in North America. His team have developed something quite unique, a whole-skin locomotion (WSL) robot that looks like a blob and is called ChIMERA. What’s so special about this experiment? The robot is made out of fluid, elastic skin which can move by both mechanical and chemical means.

In terms of physical movement, the bot is able to charge-up stored potential energy, which Dr. Hong’s team use with active tension cords to allow it to move in different directions. Its chemical movements, however, are what really make it stand out. As the video at the end shows, the robot has been inspired by amoeba organisms in nature. When it reacts to a substance, the liquid-filled tube starts progressing forward in a type of expanding-contracting motion by pulling its body in and through the middle of its tube.

ChIMERA can move about at 0.5 m/s speeds, which is rather impressive for this initial prototype stage, and mimics a giant single-celled organism. The variable shape of its body allows it to shrink in diameter and squeeze through smaller holes and reach harder to get-to places. What’s more, is that it relies on no external parts to help it function, making it completely compact.

This impressive bit of technology can have numerous uses in the future development of robots, and provide an entirely different way of generating motion. It’s hard to see how exactly it will be applied, and perhaps combined with an AI machine to make full use of its capabilities, but for now one can use his or her imagination.

Watch the new locomotion method in action in the video below.

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Posted in AI & Robotics.