In case you weren’t already terrified of robots that can jump over walls, fly or crawl, Army researchers are developing your next nightmare — a flexible, soft robot inspired by squid and other invertebrates.
And they want soldiers to be able to use 3D printers to make them on the battlefield.
The U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the University of Minnesota are developing materials that can be 3D printed based on the flexibility and nimbleness of invertebrates such as a squid, according to an ARL release.
Traditional materials are too rigid and limit certain types of movement that robots might require to get into “confined or restricted spaces,” said Ed Habtour, an ARL researcher.
The prototypes that Habtour and fellow ARL researchers developed gave 3D-printed actuators three times the movement as what’s been tested before.
The material that they’ve used in their testing will bend in any direction when hit with electricity.
“In the initial phase of the project, our team began by investigating new methods for emulating the locomotion of invertebrates,” said Michael McAlpine, a professor at the University of Minnesota.
That helped researchers learn how to apply the natural movement of invertebrates like squids to produce “high bending motions without skeletal support,” McAlpine said.
Because the material doesn’t have to be dried, heated or assembled, it would require little training and could be used for printable robots that soldiers could make and use whenever and wherever they’re needed.
“If we can understand these interactions, then we can use those insights to fabricate dynamic structures and flexible robots which are designed to be self-aware, self-sensing and capable of adjusting their morphologies and properties in real time to adapt to a myriad of external and internal conditions,” Habtour said.
The material is still in early development stages, so don’t expect to see a robot squid in the foxhole next to you tomorrow.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.