Looking to plant tendrils for inspiration, researchers from the Istituto Italianio di Tecnologia (IIT) have created a soft robot that can make reversible movements under the power of a 1.3-volt battery.
Plants move using osmosis, a process that relies on difference in the concentration of a solution separated by a semi-permeable membrane.
The IIT robot mimics this by using a flexible tube filled with a liquid containing electrically charged ions. If a charge is applied to the liquid, the ions are attracted, causing movement in the robot in the same way a plant tendril might curl around a support as the plant grows.
The movement can then be reversed by turning off the charge.
“Our approach highlights the potential of plant-inspired technologies for developing soft robots based on biocompatible materials and safe voltages,” said Barbara Mazzolai, IIT researcher and Coordinator of EU project GrowBot.
Among the potential applications for the technology are wearable devices, as well as exploration.