There are multiple robots out there that can perform a variety of functions. Just yesterday, we saw a robot that can perform Jewish mourning rituals. If a robot can perform religious rites, surely it can also move like a worm. Researchers at MIT, Harvard and Seoul National University must have thought the exact same thing.
Meet Meshworm, it's a robot that's encased in a "flexible, meshlike tube that makes up its body." The inside of the robot is controlled by what the researchers call "artificial muscle" that's made up of wire made from nickel and titanium. It moves by using heat to stretch and contract the wires. Here's the meshworm in action:
While I think the robot looks more like a Chinese finger trap, the scientists say the design is meant to mimic the lowly earthworm. They say that earthworms, snails and sea cucumbers move through a process called peristalsis. By that, they mean that the worm moves by "alternatively squeezing and stretching muscles along the length of their bodies."
What makes the Meshworm so unique, beyond its movement, is that its more resilient than a regular earthworm. You can step on Meshworm and it will keep on moving. The materials that make up the robot can't be damaged so easily as they're made of soft materials that are meant to bend under pressure.
So what could Meshworm mean for the future of robotics? It would make robots more versatile and able to stand more damage than their counterparts. The scientists at MIT specifically mention these robots as being able to "explore hard-to-reach spaces and traverse bumpy terrain."
What may be the most interesting part about this robot is that the scientists say it's showing signs of "body morphing capability." For all the futurists terrified of a robot controlled future, this is where you start to get afraid. If a robot is suitably soft enough, it could potentially mold itself into any object. The robot might even be your next door neighbor - mild mannered Mr. Johnson. I bet you never thought he was a robot, but he never thought the cute caterpillar was a robot either until it was too late.