The next step for these ‘softbots’ includes a diverse array of potential uses, such as shape-changing robots capable of engaging in search-and-rescue operations, space applications for which a ‘gravity-agnostic’ crawler would be highly valued, and medical applications in which a biocompatible, soft robot would reduce incidental tissue damage and discomfort.
American boffins say they are poised to invent a new class of shape-shifting “soft bodied robots” which will manoeuvre – perhaps inside the human body – by mimicking the literally gut-wrenching means by which certain species of creepy-crawly get about.
Assembled experts in the States have opened the door to a fearsome new class of “softbots” by probing the very bowels of crawling Manduca sexta caterpillars. These little chaps, according to Professor Jake Socha, move using “a unique phenomenon of gut sliding … unlike any form of legged locomotion previously reported”.
Director of Bristol Robotics Laboratory, Chris Melhuish, said microbial fuel cells (MFCs) had been tried before but an artificial gut was needed to solve the problem of previous models, which was that humans had to clean up the waste left by bacterial digestion. Melhuish said the robot was called Ecobot III, but admitted “diarrhea-bot would be more appropriate, as it’s not exactly knocking out rabbit pellets.”
This is a terribly important milestone. It’s only a matter of time until we build indefinitely autonomous robots, and from there, to indefinitely autonomous self-replicating robots. They will have few natural predators because they will lack meat, though some robots may eventually synthesize artificial muscles out of organics. Hopefully, molecular nanotechnology would be required before journeying too far down this pathway.