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Researchers Create Soft Robot That Moves Like Plant Tendrils

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Scientists have created a soft robot that mimics the movement of plant tendrils, curling and climbing like a vine. They studied the plant’s natural water transportation mechanism and replicated it as artificial tendril to perform reversible movements.  ( Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) )

Italian engineers designed first-of-its kind soft robots that uses natural mechanism of osmosis for its movement.

The recent paper published in journal Nature Communications was conducted by Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT). The researchers exploited the natural hydraulic principle known as osmosis that is responsible for transporting water inside cells, tissues, and organs to facilitate plant movement.

Taking Inspiration From Nature

The researchers used a basic mathematical model to determine the potential size of a soft robot to apply the principles of natural hydraulic. Then they developed a tendril-like robot that can emulate the reversible movement of a real plant.

Soft robots were designed using a flexible PET tube that contains electrically charged particles (ions) that are powered by 1.3-volt battery to enable the movement.

"Soft robots hold promise for well-matched interactions with delicate objects, humans and unstructured environments owing to their intrinsic material compliance," said the paper's authors.

The study authors further explained that they drew inspiration from real plants to devise the motion and stiffness modulation, which is hard to imitate but necessary for an effective demonstration.

Possible Future Applications

This is the first time that natural osmosis mechanism has been used to trigger reversible movement. The success achieved by scientists in using simple fabrics and common battery to power soft robot establishes a reasonable possibility of a concept that could pave way for strong robots that are capable of adapting itself to their environment, safely interacting with objects and humans.

Its possible applications may also include shape-changing wearable technologies. It may also be developed into malleable robotic arms for exploration. Researchers believe that it may also lead to a new age of soft robots that can employ other biological methods to circumnavigate challenging settings.

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