Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder have built a small, ‘squishable’ robot designed to squeeze through narrow gaps.
Named Compliant Legged Articulated Robotic Insect and abbreviated to CLARI, the tiny robot was inspired by real-world insects and is intended to aid first responders after major disasters.
The modular design of the robot means the robot can have its number of appendages adjusted from the baseline of four.
Heiko Kabutz, a doctoral student in the Paul M. Rady Department of Mechanical Engineering, explained that CLARI can transform its shape from square to long and slender when its surroundings become cramped.
CLARI’s design is still in its infancy, added Kaushik Jayaram, co-author of the study and an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at CU Boulder. The robot, for example, is tethered to wires, which supply it with power and send it basic commands.
The team hopes that one day the robot will be able to move independently into spaces currently inaccessible to robots, such as jet engines or into the rubble of collapsed buildings.
“Most robots today basically look like a cube,” Jayaram said. “Why should they all be the same? Animals come in all shapes and sizes.”
In its most basic form, the robot is shaped like a square with one leg along each of its four sides. However, it can change shape to become wider, like a crab, or more elongated, like a cockroach.
According to the team, the robot can morph from about 34 millimetres (1.3 inches) wide in its square shape to approximately 21 millimetres (0.8 inches) when in its elongated form.
The team also hope to incorporate sensors into future iterations of CLARI so that it can detect and react to obstacles.