Forget Roy Batty, the android who easily evaded Harrison Ford in Bladerunner: Robots with superhuman speed and flexibility might look more like somersaulting caterpillars. A new soft-bodied robot made out of silicon mimics caterpillars' ballistic roll, which is among the fastest wheeling behaviors in nature. By watching videos of caterpillars at 300 frames per second (above), researchers identified how the tiny insects' uncoupled muscles fire it into a somersault to escape an annoying poke. Their 10-centimeter-long robot, named GoQBot for the Q-shape it forms as it rolls, is powered by shape memory coils that bend at three points to allow it to change its body conformation in less than 100 milliseconds. Soft-bodied robots that can both squirm into difficult spaces and change direction extremely quickly could be useful for getting into debris-strewn areas for rescues or intel gathering, the researchers report online today in Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.
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