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Odd new robot does ‘the worm’ to dance its way over sand, gravel, mud, and water

Crawling, swimming and climbing with a 3D printed wave producing robot (SAW)
If you’re searching for a unique robot concept, look no further than the new Single-Actuator Wave robot created by researchers at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. They’ve built a bio-inspired robot that creates forward motion via a “continuously advancing” transverse wave. To put it in less scientific terms, it’s a worm robot that moves forward by doing the worm dance.

“It turns out that the wave is a very efficient mechanism for moving on tough surfaces, such as sand, gravel, mud, rubble and many others,” Dr. David Zarrouk, who led the project, tells Digital Trends. “[Our robot] has a low center of gravity and can overcome many obstacles [more easily than comparable systems]. It can even swim, which makes it very versatile.”

While the wave motion is similar to the means by which creatures like snakes move (albeit flipped the other way around), it bears most resemblance to the locomotion method of tiny ocean organisms which propel themselves through the water using flagella.

The SAW robot is powered by a single motor that rotates a spine-like helix, embedded inside a series of 3D printed plastic links. As the chain-like links touch the ground, they rotate — thereby pushing the robot forward.

For Dr. Zarrouk what is most exciting about his creation is how easily it can scale up and down. But while it could definitely have advantages at a larger size, it’s on the smaller end of the spectrum where he thinks it could be most significant.

“The robot could be as small as just one centimeter,” he says. “At that size we think it could be a very useful tool for medicine, since it would be possible for someone to swallow it, and then for it to act as a self-propelled capsule for endoscopy or even taking biopsies. The doctor would then be able to control its movement in terms of whether it travels forward or backward — both of which it is capable of traveling in.”

So trippy and useful, huh? That’s our kind of robot!

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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