Known as Meshworm, the soft, repugnant automaton moves via peristalsis, a method of locomotion for slugs, sea cucumbers and other vile organisms, as well as a process associated with human digestive functions, such as vomiting.
The robot, which looks like a bloated earthworm that has been out in the sun for too long, was constructed out of a revolting mesh-like substance made from a nickel-titanium alloy that stretches and contracts with heat. A small current through the wire mesh propels the horrid machine forward with a slow, writhing, and eerily purposeful motion, much like an earthworm would inch across your face while you're sleeping, for example.
“It’s a very bizarre material,” says MIT's Sangbae Kim in a press release from the university, which remarked on the difficulty of attaining a correct ratio of nickel and titanium, as well as heating the alloy to temperatures that allow the mesh to spring back to its original, disgusting, shape.
Predicting how people would react to their loathsome creation, the scientists built it to be virtually indestructible. “You can throw it, and it won’t collapse,” says Kim. “Most mechanical parts are rigid and fragile at small scale, but the parts in Meshworms are all fibrous and flexible. The muscles are soft, and the body is soft … we’re starting to show some body-morphing capability.”
The scientists also demonstrated that Meshbot cannot be dispatched by stomping on it or bashing it with a hammer.
The team noted that the stomach-turning design could be useful for creating horrid robots that could inch across rough terrain, or squeeze in and out of tight spaces, such as your shower drain.
The team's research was supported by the US Defense Department.