Exoskeleton system allows one robot to perform a large variety of functions

Robots are extremely useful and have virtually unlimited potential. Nano robots will be very useful in medicine, industry and even space exploration in the near future, but before that we have to figure out a way to make them fulfil as many functions as possible. Scientists from the University of York and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a real shape shifting robot for this purpose.

Primer can wear different exoskeletons, designed to fulfil different duties. Image credit: University of York

Robots typically can only do what they are designed for. Their functionality is not that flexible and so scientists are trying to find a way to change that. The ideal solution would be a transformer robot, but now scientists might have grasped a better idea. They created a shape-shifting robot, which uses exoskeletons to perform different functions. A tiny magnet-controlled robot that looks like a simple cube can roll onto a special skin, which folds itself into a useful shape when heated. This allows this tiny robot to walk, roll, sail on water or even glide.

This robot, called Primer, can then shed its skin by simple crawling into water. This means that all of these exoskeletons are easy to manufacture and can be added for every task. Primer is future-proof in that sense and thus represents a large leap in robotics. For now Primer has tested four different costumes.

Walk-bot allows Primer to walk around, while Wheel-bot makes it much faster. Then there is a Boat-bot, which transforms Primer into a little boat, allowing it to cross bodies of water. Finally, there is a Glider-bot as well, which is made to cover larger distances at once. Primer can also wear several of exoskeletons as well. It is not hard to see where this would be useful.

Robots can be extremely useful, but they typically perform a single function. Primer with its exoskeletons can do much more, wearing a different outfit for a different task at hand. In medical sector Primer could be used to stitch up wounds or even deliver drugs. Such robot would be ingested into stomach and then would travel to the assigned location to do its job and then would biodegrade in the body. In space exploration it would be useful in many different scenarios, because we could send a single robot and a bunch of exoskeletons to make it more universal. New exoskeletons could be designed after deployment.

Researchers like the idea and see the potential of it. They will now try to develop specialized exoskeletons for other tasks, such as driving through water and burrowing in sand to camouflaging their colour. We will be waiting to see where this goes and what other applications are possible for this device.


Source: University of York

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