Monday, June 30, 2008

Tufts Scientists to Develop Morphing "Chemical Robots"

Scientists at Tufts University have received a $3.3 million contract from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop chemical robots that will be so soft and squishy that they will be able to squeeze into spaces as tiny as 1 centimeter, then morph back into something 10 times larger, and ultimately biodegrade.

Today's rigid robots are unable to navigate complex environments with openings of arbitrary size and shape. They are stymied by, say, a building whose only access points may be a crack under a door or a conduit for an electrical cable.

The robot design is inspired by the team's findings on both the neuro-mechanical system of the Manduca sexta caterpillar. The Tufts chembots will copy some of the performance capability of Manduca, including its flexibility, climbing ability and scalability – from hatching to the end of its larval stage, the caterpillar grows 10,000 fold in mass using the same number of muscles and motor neurons.

According to Dr. Mitchell Zakin, Ph.D., DARPA program manager for the ChemBots program,

“DARPA’s ChemBots program represents the convergence of soft materials chemistry and robotics. It is an entirely new way of looking at robots and could someday yield great technological advantage for our armed forces.” Read full article


Nicholas Conley said...

Science really does seem to be getting closer and closer to science fiction everyday.

It really seems that we're getting near a point, now, where all these technologies that have been in development for the last 10-20 years will finally break through and come about. I really have a feeling that we'll be living in an extremely different world very soon.

Paul said...

You know, there is that to think about but I have to play the other side of the coin. Massive technologies have been introduced in the last 25 years which have drastically chanced the canvas of human society. The introduction of the cell phone, personal computers and the internet have forever changed the landscape of social interaction. This is not the first time one could lay a finger on the "thing" that changed the world. The advent of the personal auto, flight, and space changed the world to such a point that even someone from half a century in the past would be at a complete loss. Those changes and those in the 80s and 90s changed civilization beyond imagination. My point is that the "breakthru" has already happened. The world of today is barely recognizable from the world of our childhood and all but incomprehensible to those of our grandfather's. I honestly think that the changes that are to come will be of such an incremental nature that the average person will not even be aware of them. Its not even the difference between a VT Television and a plasma display say, but the difference between 720i and 1080p. Now the changes there are technically amazing as say the jump from a 1 MP camera to a 10, but the average person can not now truly grasp the innovation let alone say that the world has made a fundamental change. Am I saying that the world will no longer change? Oh hardly, but unless an asteroid or an alien drops in, I feel that we will no longer be able to definitively say "here is where everything changed"