New Inflatable Robot

When we think of robots, we often think of shiny chrome humanoids who perform menial tasks for us, but as technology advances, we’re realizing more and more that robots come in many shapes and sizes. And those different shapes and sizes are allowing us to take robotics to places we’ve never been able to before.

For example, researchers at Stanford University have created a “soft robot” that inflates through its tube like a slow-moving vine, and at first, it doesn’t look all that impressive. In fact, it reminds us mostly of inflatable tube men. However, the simple robot is actually quite genius. Because it doesn’t have to fully inflate to expand, the robot can fit through tiny crevices and around corners that humans can’t, and it can even travel straight up in the air!

The researchers are able to control their robot’s movements with precise inflations on either side of it. The way it expands is the key to it’s success; the robot unfolds from within itself, so it never stretches across surfaces and thus doesn’t get caught or stuck on other objects. When the researchers reverse the process, the robot just rolls back up into itself.

Though it looks large and unwieldy at the moment, the applications for this type of robot increase tenfold when they get to be much smaller. Because of the way they inflate, they can move through the body without irritating tissue, and could be applied to everything from surgeries to catheters! They can also carry cameras! Not bad for an inflatable tube man!