The Pentagon’s latest technology isn’t a speedy laser jet that can see through walls. It’s a worm. A reconnaissance robot worm no less. The slithering sleuth was built to gather information in tight spaces and is a joint effort by a team from MIT, Harvard, and Seoul National University. No surprise here, but the Meshworm project comes courtesy of DARPA, the Pentagon’s “let’s try this and see if it sticks” division. Instead of using gears and pneumatic pumps, like past robot worm efforts, the team turned to real life for inspiration.
The Darpa-supported team instead moved their machine by using an “artificial muscle” made out of nickel and titanium wire designed to stretch and contract with heat.
By wrapping this wire around a mesh-like tube the engineers replicated the circular muscle fibres of an earthworm, creating different segments in the process.
When a current was applied to part of the wire it contracted, squeezing the tube.
The team created algorithm to send a contraction wave across each of the machine’s five segments in turn, squeezing the tube and propelling it forward. This mimics the movement of its biological counterpart.
And you know how you can cut a worm in half and it just morphs into two worms. Well, the Meshworm can exactly do that, but the researchers did try bashing the thing with a hammer, which left it battered but functional.