Ready to be creeped out? Then take a gander at Meshworm, the crawling, autonomous robot created by researchers from MIT, Harvard University and Seoul National University.
It moves by peristalsis, the same squeezing and stretching process used by earthworms to crawl across the ground (and your esophagus to push that double-western bacon cheeseburger into your stomach). Meshworm moves with an artificial muscle made of a nickel-titanium alloy that changes phases according to the heat, all wrapped in a flexible polymer mesh.
This DARPA-funded wormbot has the added advantage of being almost indestructible — researchers repeatedly hit it with a hammer and even stepped on it, only to watch it crawl onwards, mindlessly inching into our collective nightmares.
Why develop a robotic earthworm? Soft robots like Meshworm have a number of advantages, including the fact that they can squeeze through tight spaces and interact safely with humans. A sensor-equipped version of the robot could be used to crawl through rubble in a disaster area or move through a person’s organs as a smart endoscope.
Researcher Sangbae Kim says that “in the next decade we will see shape-changing artificial muscles in many products, such as mobile phones, portable computers and automobiles.” I can’t wait until the day my laptop and smartphone crawl to me the moment I wake up in the morning.