The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency last week issued a request for proposals to develop a "chemical robot" made of soft, flexible materials that can squeeze through openings smaller than its static dimensions and then reconstitute itself to perform a task military task.
"Nature provides many examples of ChemBot functionality. Many soft creatures, including mice, octopi, and insects, readily traverse openings barely larger than their largest "hard" component, via a variety of reversible mechanisms," DARPA stated.
While the Defense Department makes frequent use of robots in warfare -- to disarm improvised bombs, or see around corners or upstairs -- their size and structure limit the spaces they can get into.
"Often the only available points of entry are small openings in buildings, walls, under doors, etc. In these cases, a robot must be soft enough to squeeze or traverse through small openings, yet large enough to carry an operationally meaningful payload," DARPA stated in a solicitation last week. "ChemBots represent the convergence of soft materials chemistry and robotics to create a fundamentally new class of soft meso-scale robots."
DARPA is looking for robot prototypes about the size of a softball that travel a distance of 5 meters at a quarter of a meter per minute, collapse to a tenth of its size and then squeeze through a 1 centimeter opening and reconstitute to its original shape in 15 seconds.
White papers on proposals are due May 3, 2007 and full proposals are due July 2, 2007.