Snake-like soft robot that can burrow through sand and soil developed by a group of engineers

The design is inspired from plant roots


Robotics is a vast area where researchers explore at higher levels than any other field. Robots that can perform a variety of actions have been made. Robots that help in exploring the land water and air have also been built. One area that lacks robots is in exploring the underground. This also has been now explored by engineers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Georgia Institute of Technology. They have developed a robot that takes the shape of a snake and has the ability to navigate underground.

The robot employs several methods to burrow through the earth. Their study was published in Science Robotics last month with the title ‘Controlling subterranean forces enables a fast, steerable, burrowing soft robot’. After following the result, they concluded that a soft robot that could control subterranean lift and can drag forces could burrow faster than previous methods. The discovery can make the knowledge of robotic subterranean locomotion better.

The robot is not a high-tech one but is made of airtight ripstop nylon fabric. The design was inspired by the roots of plants to avoid friction along the side. This design will also help the robot to take any direction easier.

Nicolas Naclerio, a graduate student researcher at the lab of UC Santa Barbara said that they have also taken inspiration from the expulsion of jet water by the southern sand octopus which helps it burrow into the seafloor. The robot made by them also expels air from its tip to water the sand near the tip. This helps in reducing the force to be used.