Engineers at Stanford University create a vine-like robot that will hopefully assist in rescue missions as well as medical procedures. Elly Park reports.
STORY: A tubular robot prototype that "grows" like a vine has been developed by mechanical engineers at Stanford University. The team says the robot mimics the growth of natural organisms, such as vines, fungi and nerve cells, and says it could be used in search and rescue missions. The tubes are made of soft material folded inside itself, that grows in one direction when the material at the front of the tube everts, becoming right-side-out. Prototypes are made of thin plastic, with the stationary end pumped with pressurized air to trigger the 'growing' movement. The robot was tested on a series of obstacles such as this small gap under a 100 kilogram crate that the robot could lift by pumping more air. Future models could be filled with fluid, and the team hopes to scale the robot much larger and smaller to test it for different purposes. They have already built a 1.8 mm version that they say demonstrates how small growing robots could advance medical procedures, such as guiding catheters through the body.