Flexible yet sturdy robot is designed to “grow” like a plant

MIT News  November 7, 2019
In a factory or warehouse the robots have a harder time winding through narrow spaces to carry out tasks such as reaching for a product at the back of a cluttered shelf etc. Engineers at MIT have developed a robot designed to extend a chain-like appendage flexible enough to twist and turn in any necessary configuration, yet rigid enough to support heavy loads or apply torque to assemble parts in tight spaces. When the task is complete, the robot can retract the appendage and extend it again, at a different length and shape, to suit the next task. It was inspired by the way plants grow, which involves the transport of nutrients, in a fluidized form, up to the plant’s tip where they are converted into solid material to produce a supportive stem. Likewise, the robot consists of a “growing point,” or gearbox, that pulls a loose chain of interlocking blocks into the box. Gears in the box then lock the chain units together and feed the chain out, unit by unit, as a rigid appendage…read more. Video

The new “growing robot” can be programmed to grow, or extend, in different directions, based on the sequence of chain units that are locked and fed out from the “growing tip,” or gearbox. Image courtesy of researchers, edited by MIT News

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