Scientists have developed a soft robot that can curl and climb like the plants, a step that can pave the way for changing portable devices.
Scientists at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) in Italy took inspiration from plants and their movement.
Plants have linked their movement to growth, and so they continually adapt their morphology to the external environment.
Even the plant systems exposed to the air can perform complex movements such as for example, closing leaves in carnivorous plants or growing tendrils in climbing plants capable of spooling around external supports to favor the growth of the plant itself.
The researchers studied the natural mechanisms by which plants utilize water transport in their cells, tissues and organs to move, and then replicated it in an artificial tendril.
The hydraulic principle is called "osmosis" and is based on the presence of small particles in the cytosol, the intracellular plant fluid.
Based on a simple mathematical model, researchers first understood how large a soft robot is driven by the above-mentioned hydraulic principle to avoid slow motion. 1
The soft robot is made of a flexible PET tube containing a liquid with electrically charged particles (ions).
When using a 1.3 Volt battery, these particles are attracted and immobilized on the surface of flexible electrodes at the bottom of the tendon; their movement causes the movement of the fluid, one of which is the robot.
To go back, it is enough to disconnect the electrical wires from the battery and connect them, researchers say.
The ability to utilize osmosis for activating reversible movements has been demonstrated for the first time.
The fact of having succeeded in using a common battery and flexible substances also suggests the possibility of creating soft robots that can easily be adapted to the environment and thus with the potential for improved and safe interactions with objects or living creatures.
Possible applications will range from portable technologies to the development of flexible robot arms for exploration.