Robots go soft and become stronger than ever

What do you imagine when you hear the word "robot?" Do you see a metal-clad humanoid from your favorite sci-fi film or a specially designed factory bot engineered to mimic human actions? If so, you're not alone. Humans and other mammals have served as the inspiration for most robotic advances. But what if robots behaved more like plants, growing and moving like twines and vine as they navigate the world and accomplish tasks like turning a valve?

According to Megan Farokhmanesh for The Verge: "Plants adapt to their surroundings in clever ways. They sprout around, or sometimes through, physical obstacles like brick and wood; they rise in the direction of light sources to better soak up nutrients. And so, inspired by nature, a group of scientists has come up with a 'soft robot' that mimics plant-like movements. According to a paper, published by the journal Science Robotics, one of these robots can 'extend from its tip to thousands of times its original body length at a speed comparable to animal and robotic locomotion.' Scientists have already built robots that look like hellmonster dogs, but there’s something unnerving about this particular version of tentacle-like creeping.

Joey Davis Greer, one of the paper’s authors, tells The Verge that growth is an under-explored navigation method in robotics. He says mimicking plant movement serves two purposes: 'First, its length can increase on the order of 1,000 percent, similar to a plant. Second, and maybe more importantly, is that if you were to watch a time-lapse of a growing root, its body does not slide with respect to its environment as it grows.' This means it can move with ease around environments ranging from search and rescue areas, to the human body."

To learn more, read "These soft robots are inspired by plants and move like sentient vines" from The Verge.