WARSAW, Poland, Aug. 18 (UPI) -- Researchers in Poland recently unveiled a light-powered micro-robot capable of mimicking the slow, steady crawl of an inchworm or small caterpillar.
The 15-millimeter-long soft robot can scoot along flat surfaces, as well as climb moderate slopes. The caterpillar-like bot can also squeeze through small openings and carry a light load.
Though built by a team of physicists and engineers at the University of Warsaw, the technology that powers the micro-bot -- liquid crystal elastomer technology -- was developed by scientists at the LENS Institute in Florence, Italy.
Liquid crystal elastomer technology allows smart materials to undergo structural changes when exposed to light. The newly unveiled caterpillar robot is powered by green light.
Most robots use complex electric or pneumatic actuators to enact motion. Soft robots powered by liquid crystal elastomer technology use light-induced deformation to actuate relatively simple motions.
The deformation of the micro-robot's soft body is made possible by a light sensitive elastomer stripe. The light is delivered by a spatially modulated laser beam. The stripe absorbs the energy, while a patterned molecular alignment translates the energy into structural changes that cause movement.
The interaction between the modulated laser beam and the patterned elastomer stripe can be manipulated to trigger different gaits, allowing the caterpillar to mimic the walking styles of several of its living relatives.
Researchers described their new micro-robot in the journal Advanced Optical Materials.